A broad aviation bill meant to make flying safer, faster and more passenger-friendly by modernizing the air traffic control system was approved Thursday by the Senate.
Congress has been struggling for more than three years to pass an aviation bill that renews Federal Aviation Administration programs and speeds up the transition from an air traffic control system based on World War II-era radar technology to GPS technology.
The bill was approved 87-8. A similar aviation bill cleared a House committee earlier this week.
"There is more technology in my cell phone than in most aircraft," Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said afterward, waving his phone. "We're going to take that technology out of a cell phone and put it on aircraft and make it safer and more efficient."
The new air traffic system will allow planes to fly more precise routes between airports, saving time, money and fuel. The satellite technology will update the location of planes every second instead of radar's every six to 12 seconds. Pilots will be able to tell not only the location of their plane, but other planes equipped with the new technology as well — something they can't do now.
Democrats described the measure as a jobs-creation bill. They estimate the $8 billion in airport construction funds will support 90,000 current or new jobs and have a beneficial spinoff effect on the employment of another 190,000 workers. The estimate is based on a calculation that $1 billion in federal spending supports 35,000 jobs. It presumes a 20 percent match by local airport authorities in addition to the federal dollars.
The bill would also make it a federal law that airlines can't keep passengers trapped in planes on airport tarmacs for longer than three hours without giving them the opportunity to get off. Airlines also would have to provide passengers with water.
The provision is nearly identical to rules already adopted last year by the Transportation Department. But the provision's sponsors said putting the passenger protections into law make it more difficult to roll them back in the future.
Airlines oppose the three-hour limit, which they say has led to more flight cancellations and more inconvenience.
Associated Press Writer Joan Lowy contributed to this report.