Congress passes bill reauthorizing FAA spending

By:  Mike Prager
Source: The Spokesman-Review

Approval Monday of legislation to reauthorize spending by the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to bring more than $40 million in investment for Spokane International Airport and Felts Field over four years.

The U.S. Senate on a 75-20 vote approved the long-awaited reauthorization Monday evening.

“Finally, Congress is getting something done,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

The bill now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.

Cantwell said the funding could support 12,000 jobs in Washington alone.

Approval came after more than four years of disagreement over various provisions. A Republican-led effort to weaken rules governing union organizing at airlines and railroads was resolved in a compromise between the House and Senate.

The bill frees up money to upgrade the existing air traffic control system from the use of radars to a newer global positioning technology.

The change is expected to speed up air transportation and allow airplanes to more efficiently land on glide paths rather than in a series of altitude drops.

On the ground, the bill will provide certainty of funding for the next four-plus years and allow Spokane’s primary commercial airport to move ahead with planned projects, said Lawrence Krauter, CEO at the airport.

Airport improvement money will likely be used for taxiway reconfiguration; rehabilitation of the airport’s crosswind runway No. 7-25; modifications to Airport Drive, the main terminal access road; emissions-reduction projects; a new fire station; and airfield safety training, Krauter said in an email.

As much as $37 million could be spent at Spokane International with another $5 million or more at Felts Field.

Felts would get rehabilitation of aircraft parking aprons and taxiways, new taxi lanes for future hangar development and airfield safety projects.

As part of the bill, Cantwell said she won an amendment that will provide savings on future purchases of fixed-wing air ambulances through approval of tax-exempt financing for those aircraft. Helicopter purchases already enjoy that type of financing.

Cantwell said the availability of air ambulance services is a major issue for Spokane and Northeast Washington.

“Airports are a central part of economic development strategies for any community,” Cantwell said.

The bill authorizes $11 billion on the new GPS air traffic control system out of a total of $63 billion in funding.

Private companies in the Pacific Northwest have been involved in development of the next-generation technology and could benefit from the federal spending, Cantwell said.

Airports will see a small decrease in funding levels, Krauter said, in part because the local airport match required for federal funding will increase from 5 to 10 percent under the bill.

The union provisions would toughen lesser requirements for holding organizing elections, the Associated Press reported.