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Oct. 31, 2004

Seeking The End of The Lines: Air travel without long queues and gridlocked terminals? It's a frequent flyer's dream. But IBM may be on the verge of making it a reality. The computer maker's Paris office this week begins marketing the PaxFlow Simulator, a hardware-software system it claims can predict the number of passengers at particular locations and times in an airport one week in advance,with accuracy levels of more than 90%. The simulator, which IBM is demonstrating to potential customers, works by combining data on flight reservations, airport layouts and staff work schedules. It then calculates the expected passenger pressure and staffing requirements, giving airport bosses the chance to make manpower changes. With European airports expected to see passenger traffic double by 2020, several, including one that's considering a pilot scheme, have expressed interest in the approximately $1 million system (IBM won't say which at this point). "Airports are [likely] to become the next major bottleneck," says Ronan Anderson of the Airports Council International Europe. "Anything that alleviates that is more than welcome." Agreed. Now can IBM do something about jet lag?

More Fun With Accounting: When it comes to interpreting the E.U.'s stability and growth pact, there are no limits to French and German creativity. With both countries at risk of breaching the pact's rules — demanding euro zone countries' budget deficits remain below 3% of GDP — for the fourth straight year, Paris and Berlin last week called for change. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder labeled the European Commission's reform proposals — taking greater account of a country's economic situation — as "not sufficient." Instead, the duo called for states to be able to exclude from budget deficit calculations some R. and D. spending and contributions to the E.U. The plans, which would have to be approved by member states, worry the Commission. "It should be possible to spend more on R. and D.," says a spokesman, "but not outside the limits of the pact." Berlin had other plans as well. After admitting it had abandoned proposals to mine billions of euros from partly state-owned Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Post to help shrink its deficit, reports claimed Germany was considering tapping the state's nursing care insurance fund. Is that healthy?