FAA bill touted as local job generator

By:  John Stucke
Source: The Spokesman-Review

The U.S. Senate’s newly passed bill to modernize airports is being hailed a jobs measure that could create 2,200 jobs in Spokane County over six years.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the new chairwoman of the Senate’s aviation subcommittee, met with local politicians and business people Sunday morning in Spokane to laud the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. The $34.5 billion spending package allows airports to tap about $8 billion in user fees captured by the sale of every airline ticket to repave runways, upgrade hangars and buildings, and make other improvements.

The bill, which still needs approval from the House, also includes about $7 billion for a comprehensive reworking of the nation’s air traffic controls to adopt satellite-based Global Positioning Systems rather than continued reliance on ground-based systems. Called NextGen, this initiative would improve safety, cut delays, save fuel and create more high-tech jobs, she said. Spokane had 1,500 delayed flights in 2009, Cantwell said.

Other funding in the bill would pay for the vast FAA operations ranging from inspections to control tower management, her staff said.

Randy Julin, general manager of Absolute Aviation Services, said the bill would boost airlines and thus ensure they continue to send work to companies such as his specialized equipment repair service.

Absolute Aviation has grown from a two-person shop six years ago into a business that now employs 36 people refurbishing aircraft parts ranging from instruments in the cockpit to flashing wing strobes.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said supporting such business growth is needed to work this region out of the national recession.

Aerospace is a big piece of the local and state economy, Verner said. She said 3 million passengers pass through the Spokane airport each year, along with 46,000 tons of cargo. Aviation accounts for about 270,000 jobs in Washington state. While Boeing and other major firms in the Seattle area first come to mind, Verner said the number also includes scores of small Spokane businesses and corporate heavyweights with factories here such as Goodrich Corp., Kaiser Aluminum Corp. and Triumph Composite Systems Inc.

Verner joined Cantwell in calling for quick passage of the FAA bill – perhaps within 90 days – which they said could create 280,000 jobs across the country.

The Senate passed the reauthorization bill 87-8 last week.

Todd Woodard, marketing director for Spokane International Airport, envisions some $50 million in projects through 2016 that need FAA authorization.