FAA rolls out ‘co-opetition’ concept at ATC convention

 - October 25, 2006, 6:53 AM

Co-opetition–it’s the hottest new Washington buzzword, meaning that you cooperate with your competitors to ensure you’re not left out when the FAA awards the big contract on which you are all bidding. And the concept is getting serious play in top-level industry and FAA circles.

The idea was unveiled at the annual convention of the Air Traffic Control Association, and it could herald a seismic shift in FAA procurement policy. Traditionally, large FAA programs have drawn competitive bids from major prime contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, each of which assembled its own teams of specialist companies to vie for the winner-take-all contract award.

Co-opetition would change all that. The major firms would unite in a single bidding team, and they would then recruit the industry’s best supporting suppliers. Such a powerhouse approach would mean that competitive bids from others would be unlikely.

So isn’t this actually an anti-competitive concept? If you’re not part of the big team, the answer would appear to be yes, because it clearly won’t be worth trying to compete with the giants. But the concept’s proponents argue that under the traditional approach, the actual contract winner could often have team members that aren’t necessarily the leaders in their fields, since the losing teams might have recruited them already, and government bidding rules say you can’t swap team members once you win a contract.

But co-opetition advocates assert that competitiveness will still rule, because each would-be participant has to compete with its peers to be included in the final team.

One such star team has already flexed its muscles in public. At the meeting, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Computer Science briefed attendees on their joint network enabled operations (NEO) project. The briefing used the airspace around Washington, D.C., to demonstrate how real-time traffic situational awareness could benefit controllers, security officials, the Department of Defense, aircraft operators and other key organ-izations, through the use of identical large-screen displays and dedicated communication links. In such an environment, all players could rapidly coordinate their responses to any situation.

Project Mercury

But while NEO was unveiled at the convention, another co-opetition initiative–Project Mercury– remains shrouded in secrecy. AIN learned that the initiative is aimed at leveraging the recent move by the FAA’s Joint Resources Council toward a nationwide ADS-B network.

The team is reportedly developing a plan that would allow the FAA to launch a much broader program for the National Airspace System, integrating ADS-B with controller/pilot datalinks and high-efficiency airborne digital communications, both of which have been on the FAA’s wish list for several years. Insiders have told AIN that the Project Mercury team is nominally led by Lockheed Martin and includes Boeing, Raytheon and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

AIN has also discovered that Project Mercury officials have discussed their concept with top-level government personnel and, according to one source, these exchanges have been “encouraging.”

Nevertheless, a separate source cautioned that co-opetition is still at the concept stage, with its adoption as government procurement policy facing many legal and political hurdles ahead.