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U.S. Airplane Tracking Technology Unchanged Since World War II

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Anyone with a smart phone has a better grasp on the exact location of aircraft than U.S. air traffic controllers. Technology upgrades in aviation would pay immediate dividends.

Former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan is part of a group pushing to replace some decades-old systems that are woefully inefficient.

“Sixty other countries have changed the way they do air traffic control. We’re going to have to (upgrade) in order to go from World War II radar to new satellite guidance. It’s safer and allows you to fly more direct routes. You’ll see far fewer flights sitting on the tarmac waiting for takeoff because there’s a problem with air traffic control.”

Because these antiquated systems cannot trace planes in real time, Dorgan says a wider berth is needed to avoid disaster in mid-air and on the ground.

“We know where planes are if they have a transponder because they show up as a blip on the radar at that nanosecond. Until the radar sweeps around that tube again, the plane is probably ten miles away with a jet. We know only about where a plane is at the moment. If we have satellite guidance we will know exactly where an airplane is as we guide them across the sky.”

As part of their routine, U.S. air traffic controllers still physically pass slips of paper to each other to monitor aircraft. Canada discontinued that practice in 2012.

Dorgan is currently co-chair of the Aviation Working Group for the Eno Center for Transportation whose mission is to improve American transportation.

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