The total absence of federal dollars pledged to NextGen in US President Barack Obama's recent economic stimulus package is intensifying lobbying efforts by the nation's airlines.

US carriers were originally pushing for $4 billion a year over the next five years to fund the equipage necessary to make NextGen ambitions start to become a reality.

Airlines are desperate to upgrade their antiquated air traffic control system, but funding to jumpstart the process failed to feature when the measures were agreed in Congress in January.

NextGen, they say, would save the US economy more than $40 billion a year through fuel and labour cost savings for the airlines as well as time savings for its 740 million annual passengers.

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These savings, they claim, could start being made by 2012, possibly sooner, if the administration and Congress started providing the $20 billion needed to build a satellite-based system.

The Air Transport Association's David Castelveter says: "The focus is to ensure the FAA Reauthorisation Bill has the funding mechanism needed to sustain NextGen."

United Airlines chief executive Glenn Tilton, who is also ATA chairman this year, says airlines are growing impatient with Washington's hesitation on funding a project that has been discussed for a decade.

Its deployment has been indecision over how to pay for a system that will cost the government up to $20 billion and airlines $20 billion for new equipment and training, with Washington undecided over whether to raise fuel taxes, taxes on tickets or impose take-off fees.

"The Senate was proposing a $25 fee per flight for anyone using IFR while the House of Representatives had no such provision but was proposing a slight increase in taxes," says Castelveter who says lobby efforts will now be focused on the Department for Transport, the FAA, Congress and the White House. "NextGen is our number one priority," he says.


Source: Flight International