A bill to speed the update of the US air traffic control system from radar to one based on GPS technology and to open US skies to unmanned drone flights within four years received final congressional approval today. The bill passed the Senate 75-20, despite labor opposition to a deal cut between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on rules governing union organizing elections at airlines and railroads. The House had passed the bill last week, and it now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Most other nations already have adopted satellite-based technology for guiding planes, or are heading in that direction, but the Federal Aviation Administration has moved cautiously in the United States. The bill passed Monday authorizes $63.4 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration over four years, including about $11 billion toward the air traffic system and its modernization. It accelerates the modernization program by setting a deadline of June 2015 for the FAA to develop new arrival procedures at the nation's 35 busiest airports so planes can land using the more-precise GPS navigation. (Read more air traffic control stories.)