Air traffic control may finally get a much needed upgrade

Our aging air traffic control network doesn't only affect safety, it has an impact on delays, cancellations and efficiency in general. Controllers still rely on radar to guide aircraft, and there's a bit of finesse needed to make it all work.

For example, according to the New York Times, "When aircraft are crossing the Gulf of Mexico on the same compass heading, they leave airports 10 minutes apart because each must be surrounded by 100 square miles of 'sanitized' space to avoid accidents. This curtails service." With the new Automatic Dependent Surveillance — Broadcast system (or ADS-B), all of that mess could be a thing of the past.

Where radar provides a series of blips and requires a pilot speak with controllers on the ground to get a read on where other aircraft are, ADS-B would provide both pilots and ground crew with a detailed look at the airspace using GPS. For the first time, a pilot can get a read on the terrain around him, see where all the airports are and even the location of other aircraft.

The radar gear won't all be thrown out, however. ADS-B is part of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, an initiative by the FAA to overhaul the air traffic control network by 2025. ADS-B is the shape the planned upgrade is taking; radar will remain as a backup in case of emergency.

Via New York Times