Late last week, The Associated Press wrote in multiple short articles (and at least one long one) that implementation of the FAA's proposed satellite-based NextGen air traffic control system could save aircraft operators (and U.S. airlines in particular) roughly $10 billion per year, and newspapers across the country noticed. From the Chicago Tribune to USA Today, major news outlets spread the articles and their contents that the $35 billion (projected) program (due for completion sometime in the 2020s, at the earliest) would allow savings in time, reduce delays, increase efficiency and save fuel through more direct routing (read: it makes more sense) -- but also that the program has been virtually stalled "for more than a decade." The shorter widely spread articles did not touch on the complications of funding the program, but the longer one cites systemic logistical and political complications. For pilots, FAA reauthorization delays, the potential impact of user fees, or cost to users in equipment upgrades may still ultimately act as motivation to slow the changeover and delay the realization of user costs.
That said, the NextGen system isn't expected to be fully operational until sometime in the 2020s at the earliest and potentially long after the current financial crisis and spike in fuel costs have been otherwise addressed. If nothing else, the timing gives us all pause to figure out how we're going to pay for the little black wonderboxes that we'll all install in our aircraft (some estimates put the cost to airlines at about $200,000 per airplane) as essential pieces to the overall puzzle of more efficient air traffic control.