FAA bill could bring jet fuel research center to Tri-Cities

By:  Michelle Dupler
Source: The Tri-City Herald

Sen. Maria Cantwell hopes a bill reauthorizing funding for the Federal Aviation Administration will bring a new jet fuel research center to the Tri-Cities.

"We don't know where it will be located," Cantwell, D-Wash., told the Herald after the Senate approved the $63.4 billion FAA bill 75-20  on Monday. "It's not for sure it is even going to our state."

Cantwell said she believes the center would be a good fit with the biofuels research being done by Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory -- and would be a boost for jobs in Central Washington.   

"I am hoping people will take a serious look at the Tri-Cities," she said.

She said the bill overall brings a lot of benefits to Washington, including funding for the Tri-Cities Airport to repave a runway and make improvements to a ramp in the general aviation area.

Airport Director Ron Foraker said the runway repair had been planned for last year, but was postponed because of uncertainty.

The bill passed by the Senate on Monday, and by the House on Friday, authorizes $63.4 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration over four years.

It is the first four-year authorization since the last one expired in 2007 -- and there have been 23 short-term continuing resolutions since, Cantwell said.

That meant airports were challenged to plan for repairs funded by FAA's Airport Improvement Program -- which traditionally has provided most of the money for capital improvements and equipment while local airports contribute a small percentage of costs -- because some of those resolutions were for as little as six weeks, and airports couldn't reliably predict when the next budget authorization might come.

"Every problem they came up with, everything they needed to do, everything they had to focus on -- they didn't know the answer to whether they would have a bill or not and whether they would get funded," Cantwell said.

Foraker said one problem with the short-term resolutions is that money came too late in the year to make meaningful progress on projects before fall or winter weather set in.

But with the stability of a four-year resolution, the  Tri-Cities Airport can plan for construction in May or June instead of August or September.

"As this bill is going to be good through 2015, it gives us a good, stable funding source for our time frame," he said.

The FAA reauthorization bill also includes about $11 billion to modernize the nation's air traffic control system.

It accelerates the modernization program by setting a deadline of June 2015 for the FAA to develop new arrival procedures at the nation's 35 busiest airports so planes can land using more-precise GPS navigation, The Associated Press reported.

Instead of time-consuming, fuel-burning, stair-step descents, planes will be able to glide in more steeply with their engines idling, said the AP. Planes will also be able to land and take off closer together and more frequently, even in poor weather, because pilots will know the precise location of other aircraft and obstacles on the ground. Fewer planes will be diverted.

Eventually, FAA officials want the airline industry and other aircraft operators to install onboard satellite technology that updates the location of planes every second instead of radar's every six to 12 seconds, reported the AP. That would enable pilots to tell not only the location of their plane, but other planes equipped with the new technology as well -- something they can't do now.

Foraker said it likely would be at least 2020 before the new system comes to the Tri-Cities.

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