Cantwell Applauds Bipartisan Compromise to Reauthorize the FAA

Proposed Bill Would Modernize Air Travel, Support Airport Infrastructure, Increase Flights from DC to Western Cities Commerce Committee Chair: Cantwell ‘Worked Tirelessly to Get This Bill Done’ ***VIDEO AVAILABLE***

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At today’s Federal Aviation Administration Conference Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the House and Senate for reaching a proposed agreement to reauthorize the FAA (H.R. 658) through 2015.

“There is a lot of gridlock in Washington D.C., but today this is a step toward not only friendlier skies for the American flying public but jobs that will help us keep our competitive edge in aviation manufacturing,” said Cantwell, chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, at today’s hearing. “This really is a jobs bill. With over 270,000 aviation jobs in Washington state, we know how important it is to have innovation continue to lead the way.”

The reauthorization’s main provisions include: accelerating the air traffic control system’s conversion from a ground-based system to the NextGen GPS system; providing predictability for the Airport Improvement Program for airport infrastructure; improving aviation safety; adding flights from Reagan National Airport to Western states; and improving the safety and integration of unmanned aircraft systems.

Implementing NextGen, a GPS-based air traffic control system, will help reduce flight delays and spur the innovation economy by bringing air traffic control technology into the 21st Century. The FAA projects the system will help reduce 2018 flight delays by at least 20 percent and save 1.4 billion gallons of aviation fuel. The technology will also help support jobs and growth of cutting-edge companies like Naverus, a part of GE Aviation, in Kent, Wash., which designs precision landing and takeoff GPS software.

“You can’t have a plane like the Dreamliner – the most sophisticated plane there is – and have it brought home by technology that’s basically from the 1950s,” Cantwell said.

The FAA reauthorization also supports the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which provides grants to airports for planning and development. During fiscal year 2009, $154 million in AIP funds were awarded to Washington state airports. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) recently utilized AIP funds for runway construction and repairs. Spokane International Airport was awarded approximately $22 million for airport infrastructure repairs. Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Paine Field and Bellingham International Airport also received grants.

AIP grants represent a significant investment in the state’s economic future. Each day, SeaTac moves nearly 900 flights, 85,000 passengers, and 740 tons of cargo to 23 countries. For King County alone, the economic impact of SeaTac is nearly $17 billion dollars per year and nearly 150,000 jobs. Spokane International Airport handled more than three million passengers in 2010 and more than 46,000 tons of cargo, which has an economic impact of $685 million. Spokane’s airport employs more than 10,000 people. By 2030, Washington’s total air cargo volume is expected to double and reach 1.4 million tons, but investments are necessary to maximize the growth’s potential into new jobs.

Cantwell has long championed these reauthorizations. During today’s hearing, Committee Chairman Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) recognized her leadership in support of the effort: 

“[Senator Cantwell has] worked tirelessly to get this bill done,” Rockefeller said. “She’s made substantial contributions to the entire bill both in the area of slots but most notably on NextGen. And just for our Committee’s interest, from my point of view, I told her at the caucus that she was going to be the point-person on NextGen. She’s brilliant on technology and all those things and she’s very organized. So this bill marks the first of many major contributions she’s going to make.”

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