Obama: 'NextGen' air traffic control system a 'smart investment'

During President Obama's meeting of his Jobs and Competitiveness Council in swing state North Carolina this week, the Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly suggested building a new air traffic control system could stimulate economic growth.

Kelly, who is a member of Obama's jobs council, told the president that the new system known as "NextGen" could save the airlines 15 percent, which could they could be using for other activities that would stimulate jobs.

"We want to grow, we want to buy more airplanes, but we're not just generating sufficient profits to make those kinds of investments," Kelly said to CNNMoney.

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President Obama seemed open to the idea, the agency said, though Republicans have indicated they are unlikely to go along with his proposal for a $556 billion transportation spending bill.

"As we move forward, distinguishing between smart investments and dumb investments, it's not something that's often highlighted in these debates," Obama said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has long planned to switch the air traffic control system from World War II-era radar technology to a satellite-based system. But in the series of continuing resolutions approved this spring as Congress was working to avert a government shutdown, lawmakers cut about $200 million from the FAA's budget that would have gone to the conversion.

Additionally, a long-term overall funding bill for the FAA has also been bogged down in discussions over the labor rights of airline and railroad employees.