A new contract awarded by the FAA to ITT Exelis and General Electric’s Naverus signals a major change in how advanced flight procedures are developed in the U.S.

The $2.8 million contract may appear relatively small, but it has significant ramifications. For the first time, private contractors are being charged with designing required navigation performance (RNP) approaches for use by multiple carriers at selected U.S. airports.

Government oversight agencies have been urging the FAA to take this step, which will help accelerate the introduction of such procedures.

Previously, third-party designers have been allowed to create only custom RNP procedures for use by individual airlines. Only the FAA was able to design the public-use RNP approaches that can be used by all operators, but the agency was criticized for moving too slowly. Eventually, the reauthorization bill passed in February called for FAA to demonstrate the ability of contractors to implement these procedures.

The contract award was made under the umbrella of the System Engineering 2020 program, which is used by the agency to task teams of aerospace companies to work on different facets of the NextGen modernization program.

ITT Exelis is the prime contractor on the RNP project, with GE’s Naverus the subcontractor. Two RNP approaches will be developed at each of five airports: Ted Stevens Anchorage International in Alaska; James M. Cox Dayton International in Ohio; Missouri’s Kansas City International; Milwaukee General Mitchell International and Syracuse Hancock International in New York.

The FAA stresses it will “closely monitor” the contractors’ work to ensure safety and environmental processes are conducted properly. The effort will supplement the agency’s own work to introduce RNP procedures; the agency has developed 305 so far.