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FAA Finally Ditching Old-School Radar for GPS

After a five-year legislative struggle and more than two dozen short-term extensions, Congress has reportedly passed a bill that gives the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) $11 Billion USD to upgrade the air traffic controls of the nation's 35 busiest airports from radar to GPS.

This is good news for both the airlines and customers, as the upgrade means a tighter tracking of airplanes soaring through the skies, as they will ping every second compared to every six to the twelve seconds currently experienced with radar. Overall GPS should help conserve fuel which may in turn lead to cheaper tickets for consumers.

The Chicago Tribune reports that GPS will allow planes to glide in more steeply with their engines idle rather than use the typical stair-step descent which consumes both time and fuel. Planes will also be able to land and take off closer together and more frequently because pilots will know exactly where other planes and natural objects are located. Even more, fewer planes will be diverted.

The House passed the bill last week, and it was just passed in the Senate by a 75 - 20 vote on Monday. In addition to the $11 billion for upgrading the air traffic system, the FAA will also receive $63.4 billion over the next four years. The bill also opens the U.S. skies for military, commercial and privately-owned unmanned drone flights within four years. These will be allowed to fly in the same airspace as airliners, cargo planes, business jets and private aircraft.

"The bill is the best news that the airline industry ever had," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said. "It will take us into a new era."

The new GPS system is merely the start of an overall plan for a 50-percent growth in air traffic over the next decade. And while other nations have abandoned radar for GPS tracking already, the FAA has moved cautiously because the U.S. plays host to the world's most complicated airspace -- it even has a greater and more varied private aviation than other countries. The U.S. also accounts for 35-percent of global commercial air traffic, thus the FAA was understandably cautious about disrupting the overall busy network with an upgrade.

The deadline for the conversion to GPS is June 2015. To learn more about how this bill came to pass, read the Chicago Tribune's report here.