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Work on enhanced air traffic-control system resumes in N.J.

The U.S. Senate has approved legislation ending a two-week partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Friday vote clears the way for thousands of employees to return to their jobs. That includes workers at the FAA Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., where something big is brewing.

Robert Challender, the president of the union local for workers at the FAA tech center in South Jersey, said it bothered the workers to lose time on NextGen to establish a new air traffic-control system.

“What we have right now is a national airspace system that tracks planes … using radar and beacons. The central theory on NextGen is that it will use GPS to track planes instead.”

Challender said using GPS would make a difference,

“A common radar may rotate every 4.5 seconds while a GPS updates every half second. And so, what you would see is a nine times faster update of a plane’s position,” he explained. “With better tracking of aircraft, there can be more aircraft taking off and landing and in the airways.”

Challender said NextGen could provide many economic, environmental, and efficiency benefits.

Patrick Smith, who runs the website askthepilot.com, said a widespread modernization of the air traffic-control system is a good idea.

“It would allow for a more streamlined, more direct system of routings that would free up airspace and allow for a more efficient flow of traffic. Now having said that, this is not the panacea that’s going to solve the delays and congestion crisis,” Smith said.

“The main reason we have so many delays and so much congestion isn’t really about airspace so much as it’s about ground space. Next Gen will make it better, but it’s not going to solve the problem.”

So, what will?

Smith, a commercial pilot for a large airline, points to big, expensive airport upgrades—such as new runways, as well as fewer departures, and larger planes.

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