The world's airlines have ambitious plans to double the fleet of commercial jets during the next two decades as the number of air travelers approaches 7 billion. The trouble: There won't be enough controllers to help those 44,000 planes take off and land safely.

A shortage of air traffic controllers may rein in expansion by the aviation industry and economic development by emerging nations such as India, which wants to activate hundreds of unused runways to spur growth. There is a potential solution, and it resembles a video gamer's dream -- a wall of big-screen TVs and a few tablet computers controlled by a stylus.

Some airports are now testing "remote towers" from Saab and Thales that allow controllers sitting hundreds of miles away to monitor operations through high-definition cameras and sensors. The technology is sensitive enough to penetrate fog and detect wild animals on runways, and the companies say it's also cheaper than hiring people to fill vacancies at smaller or remote airports.

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