New FAA chief to face labor, technology issues

04/15/2009 | National Public Radio

If confirmed by the Senate to head the FAA, Randy Babbitt will have to deal with long-simmering labor issues and technology problems that are older still. Air traffic controllers are angry over work rules imposed by the FAA in 2006, and many are choosing to retire. Once a new labor contract is in place, Babbitt will attempt to overhaul a ground-based radar system that has its origins in the earliest days of aviation. Early pilots "would fly at night from one bonfire to the next," explains a spokesman for Air Transport Association. "Over the course of time they built radar beacons -- radar towers -- on the sites of those bonfires, and to this very day, airplanes fly from beacon to beacon." Replacing the beacons with a satellite-based system will cost taxpayers an estimated $20 billion, with another $20 billion expected to come from the airlines.

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