The U.S. FAA is giving JetBlue Airways $4.2 million toward equipping up to 35 of its Airbus A320s with automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) avionics in exchange for data on these flights on the East Coast and to the Caribbean.

Because of this partnership, and the data it assumes will show the economic benefits of the satellite-based NextGen air traffic management program, the FAA hopes other airlines will step forward and equip their own aircraft. The agency even has more money available for equipage in an account set up to further NextGen. “Best-equipped will be best-served,” says FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.

Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger and Babbitt made the announcement Feb. 3 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The partnership will enable JetBlue to fly on two main routes off the East Coast without traditional radar coverage if it is not available. The FAA also said in a statement that this partnership could lead to the development of two new, shorter ADS-B-only flight paths to the Caribbean from Boston, New York and Washington. About 25% of JebBlue’s flights currently serve the region.

The airline will be installing ADS-B on its A320s in the next two years. JetBlue will pay for the cost of downtime while its young fleet is being fitted with the system. It also will pay for any training needed for flight crews and dispatchers.

LaHood, calling Barger an “innovator,” said he stepped up to the plate to work with the FAA on this partnership. Babbitt said these data will give other airlines a glimpse of future benefits to equipping their aircraft for more NextGen advancements.

Babbitt noted that this is not the first partnership FAA has had, pointing to other airlines that already have GPS and are installing ADS-B. “We want our partners to know it is better to come on board sooner,” says Babbitt.

Barger adds that “this proof of concept just makes good business sense, independent of what the FAA and DOT” are doing.

This announcement comes a day after some lawmakers discussed the drastic budget cuts looming for some federal agency programs. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, says the potential cuts "put NextGen at risk. How long will we have to wait to see the benefits, and how much more taxpayer money must be spent while NextGen is delayed?"