Airline industry and FAA vow cooperation on multibillion satellite program

Collaboration and information-sharing are at the heart of NextGen, says agency official.

Airline industry officials on Wednesday said the Federal Aviation Administration should seek their input on its far-reaching plan to replace the nation's aging radar-based air traffic control system.

A group of mostly aircraft dispatchers from the country's major airlines discussed NextGen, the $20 billion satellite-based network the agency has developed, during an annual conference this week featuring Victoria Cox, FAA's senior vice president. Cox said in an interview after a presentation that collaboration and information-sharing across the aviation community were at the heart of NextGen -- a message that resonated with attendees at the 2010 Airline Dispatchers Federation's safety symposium.

"It is imperative in order for NextGen to become a reality you have the participation of all players included," said Joseph Miceli, a United Airlines dispatcher in Chicago and president of Airline Dispatchers Federation, an advocacy group. Mark Spence, manager of dispatch for Hawaiian Airlines in Honolulu, said including dispatchers in the early stages of NextGen is important to ensure the program's success.

Cox's remarks echoed those made by FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt in April, who said NextGen is "only going to happen if we continue to work together. . . . Partnership is an integral component of FAA's strategy for NextGen."

NextGen has faced criticism and delays. In September, Steve Bradford, chief scientist for NextGen at FAA said the "heavy lifting is still there," and the project "may not show as much momentum as I'd like."

"More times than not, they take our concerns into account," Matt Berg, a dispatcher for Continental Airlines and vice president of international relations for the federation, said of FAA. But, he added, it's also a balancing act for the agency to juggle various stakeholders.

"[We're] very encouraged, but skeptical," Miceli said. "We just need to be part of the process."