Members of the nation's aviation community were in Atlantic City on Tuesday discussing the future of the federal government's plan to make air travel more efficient.

About 130 people, including representatives of Delta Airlines, JetBlue Airways and United Airlines, met at the Sheraton Atlantic City Hotel and Convention Center for the Avionics for NextGen conference.

Sponsored by Avionics Magazine, the conference, which originated in Atlantic City, is in its third year.

NextGen refers to a series of initiatives intended to reduce flight times and fuel while bringing more flights through airports. The FAA has set a goal of integrating NextGen technologies into the national airspace system by 2020. The technology will modernize the system as it transitions from a ground-based system to a more efficient satellite-based one.

But the industry has struggled to implement the programs.

Airlines have to pay to to equip their planes with technology. Chip Beall, a technical pilot for Delta Airlines, said airlines continue to be reluctant to make major investments in the equipment because federal holdups have left it unclear when the program will progress.

"If you take the problems we face and multiply by a few factors, you can see the problems the industry has to face," Beall said.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, delivered the opening remarks at the conference, followed by a keynote address by Dennis Filler, the director of the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township. Filler, who took over as director in March, described the work going on at the tech center to implement NextGen.

"The center does not make the policy, but it provides the data to the decision makers," Filler said.

The tech center employs about 1,500 FAA workers and 1,500 contractors. It is the nation's lone federal laboratory for air transportation systems. Eight years ago, plans were announced for a NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park on the tech center's campus, but due to several development hurdles, work has yet to begin on the first building.

Officials are in the progress of working through several legal actions that will allow the project to move forward.

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