WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate is taking on what Sen. Jay Rockefeller calls "a national embarrassment," an antiquated air traffic control system that is making flying more unpleasant and possibly less safe.

Legislation being debated this week in the Senate to modernize the nation's aviation system could provide immediate relief to suffering passengers. It would set a three-hour limit on how long airliners may sit on a runway without allowing passengers to get off.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., heads the Senate Commerce aviation subcommittee. He is citing predictions that none of the 1 billion people predicted to fly in 2015 will reach their destination on time if aggressive steps are not taken in the meantime to upgrade air traffic control.

The House passed its version of the bill in September. It stalled in the Senate because of disputes over how to pay for the needed modernization efforts.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said an agreement reached last week would provide an additional $800 million every year for the Aviation Trust Fund. One source of new money would be raising the tax on jet fuel used by noncommercial aircraft from the current 21.9 cents a gallon to 36 cents a gallon.

That would help fund NextGen, a satellite-based Global Positioning System for tracking the exact locations of aircraft.

Current radar-based air traffic control "is a relic of the 1950s," Rockefeller said. GPS systems "in cars or cell phones are more sophisticated than the hardware used in passenger and cargo planes."

The Senate voted Monday evening to open a weeklong debate on the bill.

The bill is S. 1300

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Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.