We must meet the challenge with government investment in our nation’s air traffic control system. This is critical infrastructure that will allow us to keep pace with our competitors. We have the technology. Now it is time for America to step into the future by fully deploying a modern system that supports the national goals of global competitiveness and putting people back to work.

With broad consensus in the business community and organized labor that Congress should work with the president to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure, it is timely for bipartisan actions that support strategic investments to grow the economy. With deficit reduction a national priority, investing in infrastructure is not at cross purposes with cleaning up the nation’s finances. In fact, they go hand-in-hand.

Making real progress on the deficit requires that we spark economic growth that drives job creation and generates additional tax revenue. It is essential that key infrastructure projects receive funding now so that industries like commercial aviation that enable businesses to grow can contribute more to the economic recovery.

Providing the funding to accelerate implementation of modern air traffic infrastructure should be a top priority in the 112th Congress. The antiquated, ground-based system in place today is a major drag on productivity.

As Ben Franklin famously proclaimed, time is money. Unfortunately, the nation has been losing both for years because our archaic air traffic control system has been unable to meet the demands placed upon it – let alone the demands of the future.

According to a recent study commissioned by the FAA, flight delays cost the U.S. $31 billion in 2007. With a satellite-based system, airline efficiency will increase and flight delays will be minimized.  Safety and customer satisfaction will improve and businesses - large and small - will reap the benefits of greater efficiency and be better positioned to create jobs.

Commercial aviation already provides key connections that make the economy grow. The industry contributes $1.2 trillion to the economy, is responsible for 5.2 percent of the nation’s GDP and supports nearly 11 million jobs.

A fully operational, NextGen air traffic management system will unleash the true economic power of commercial aviation and benefit every industry in this country. Conservative estimates predict that implementation of this system will lead to the creation of more than 150,000 jobs. In reality, the economic impact of this investment in modern infrastructure will be exponentially bigger.

The sky is the limit for what this industry can contribute to the economy. Now it is up to our leaders in Washington to provide airlines with the infrastructure needed to compete successfully and support the U.S. in our national ambition to win in the global economy.

Nicholas E. Calio is the president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America (ATA).