Bill means shorter flights, less waiting at Sea-Tac

By:  Elizabeth Dinh
Source: KOMOnews.com

SEATTLE -  The future of flying is about to change in the Pacific Northwest.

A new FAA bill that passed both the U.S. House and Senate earlier this month will bring major upgrades to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the coming years.

Among other improvements, the new bill means an outdated air traffic control system is about to get a much-needed facelift.

The new technology is one major reason why U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., led the push for the bill, which will upgrade Sea-Tac from a 60-year old radar system to a GPS-based network.

"What people didn't really realize is that we were operating on this 1950s technology," says Cantwell.

The new bill also means Sea-Tac Airport, along with Boeing and Alaska Airlines, can start an initiative called "Greener Skies" - which allows airplanes to take a shorter route to land, using the new technology.

That initiative could start as soon as next spring.

"'Cause everybody knows they've been stuck up in the air one time where you just flew around and flew around and flew around because of congestion," says Cantwell. "This is going to alleviate that from happening in the future."

Cantwell says the changes will bring in at at least 12,000 new jobs.

Plus, it will mean faster flights, shorter wait times at the airport - and planes will use less fuel.

"So, it's the smart use of technology where really everybody wins," says Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayers.

Alaska Airlines, with Horizon, makes up about half the flights at Sea-Tac. And the company is already on board with the upgrades.

"So this bill is going to help consumers. It's going to make for friendlier skies," says Sen. Cantwell.

While all of the upgrades are in the works, it will, of course take some time before the rest of the country is on board - and those effects really take off.

As part of the bill, the country's largest 35 airports - which include Sea-Tac and Portland International - must develop the new "precision navigation" procedures by 2015.