U.S. skies are crowded and getting worse, according to a forecast by the FAA, which predicts commercial air carriers will carry a billion passengers by 2015. The FAA predicts 768 million passengers to be flying in fiscal year 2007, more-than one billion passengers by 2015, and 1.2 billion by 2020. The forecast also expects 62.5 million take-offs and landings at the nation’s towered airports this fiscal year. By 2020, that number is expected to reach 81.1 million operations, growing by an average of 1.4 million per year during the forecast period. In addition, general aviation is expected to increase by 59 percent by 2020, led by the robust growth in very light jets. “The new demand our forecast anticipates will only add pressure. As more planes carry more passengers and cargo, FAA and contract towers will need to handle an average of 1.4 million more U.S. operations each year between now and 2020. To put this number into perspective, imagine adding twice the traffic at Dallas-Fort Worth airport into the system every year,” Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said. At the FAA’s annual forecast conference in Washington Thursday, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and Peters said the United States needs to move now to ensure planes keep moving smoothly. And that includes the Next Generation Air Transportation System (Next-Gen), and the passage of the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007. Peters said the financing reform package would replace the decades-old system of collecting ticket taxes with a cost-based, stable and reliable funding program that relies on a combination of user fees, taxes and a federal government contribution to achieve the Next-Gen system. “Without Next-Gen, some parts of the system will ‘freeze’ first. Soon, other areas will follow. The system will reach its absolute breaking point, and our customers will be the ones who suffer,” Blakey said.