Cantwell at Sea-Tac: Puget Sound Poised to Lead in 21st Century Aviation Technology, Jobs from New FAA Bill

Alaska Airlines, Boeing, Sea-Tac to be national leader in deploying precision landing GPS technology that reduces flight delays Cantwell led on FAA bill’s passage last week; bill now on Obama’s desk for signature

SEATTLE, WA – Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined regional aviation leaders and businesses at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) to highlight how the new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill will help Puget Sound passengers and support jobs, innovation and the region’s aviation leadership for years to come.

Cantwell, the Chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, was a leader in passing the bill through the Senate on Monday, Feb. 6. The bill now heads to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.

The bill, which reauthorizes the FAA through 2015, accelerates the air traffic control system’s conversion to a GPS-based network, known as NextGen. Currently, the system uses a 60-year-old ground based radar system.

At Sea-Tac, the transition to precision landings and takeoffs will make flying safer, shorten flight times, save a combined 175,000 gallons of fuel each month, and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 22,400 metric tons. According to the FAA, NextGen could reduce flight delays 20 percent nationwide by 2018.  The bill also authorizes Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants that could support in excess of 12,000 jobs in Washington state.

“This bill will catapult air travel into a high-tech era – with Sea-Tac and local innovators leading the way,” Cantwell said. “With smart planes flying more direct routes and landing at smart airports, passengers will have shorter flight times and fly through cleaner skies. This bipartisan bill will support hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on Washington state’s growing aerospace economy. It also helps ensure Washington state’s airports and businesses will stay at the forefront of the national transition to precision navigation.”

Sea-Tac will be an industry leader in integrating NextGen’s precision-landing procedures into its daily operations. Cantwell wrote a provision to the FAA bill that ensures the FAA will work with Alaska Airlines, Boeing and Sea-Tac to implement the “Greener Skies” precision landing initiative at the airport. This technology enables airplanes to take a more direct, smooth route to the airport during decent. Precision-landing navigation will allow the airport to operate its parallel runways more efficiently, so more aircraft can take off and land more quickly and safely

Beyond benefits to passengers, NextGen will continue to drive innovation among businesses and help Puget Sound remain at the forefront of this nationwide transformation. Puget Sound is home to many of the aviation innovators that are developing, building and testing some of NextGen’s most critical components. Boeing designs and builds the NextGen compatible airplanes. Alaska Airlines has been equipping its aircraft with precision navigation technology. Local air traffic controllers will help the FAA revise existing procedures for precision landings and takeoffs that will serve as a guide for other airports’ transitions to this technology nationwide.

NextGen is also driving innovation and investment among new companies, like Seattle’s iJet Onboard. The company is designing software that could allow a continuous exchange of information between aircraft, airports and airlines during flight. This would allow airports to monitor aircraft systems realtime and to share more precise flight information with pilots during flight. iJet Onboard has nearly quadrupled in size over the last two years.

Beyond expanding the marketplace for aviation innovators, the FAA bill will also support construction jobs. The FAA bill creates stable funding for AIP grants to expand airport capacity and to improve infrastructure and safety. In 2011, Washington state airports received $95 million in AIP grants. In 2011, Sea-Tac was awarded nearly $20 million in AIP grants to help construct a new runway and infrastructure to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft.


The FAA reauthorization’s other benefits for Washington state, including:

  • Adding eight flights from DC to West Coast cities– The FAA reauthorization bill increases direct access to Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA), Washington, D.C.’s nearest airport, from more Western cities by adding eight more round-trip flights. This will benefit businesses that need to fly directly to our nation’s capital as well as provides greater access for Washingtonians visiting the nation’s capital.


  • Supporting alternative jet fuel research– Cantwell wrote a provision to the FAA reauthorization bill that increases research funding for alternative and renewable fuels and authorizes the creation of an FAA Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet-Fuel Research in Civil Aircraft. This will support the Pacific Northwest’s growing biofuels industry.


  • Continuing composite research– The FAA bill extends the authorization for the FAA Center of Excellence in Advanced Material for Transport Aircraft Structures (AMTAS) located at the University of Washington, which helped advance the composites for the Boeing Dreamliner. The AMTAS center’s research in advanced composite materials used in aircraft will help Washington maintain its competitive edge in aerospace manufacturing.


  • Redeveloping abandoned airport properties – The FAA reauthorization bill creates a pilot program to help communities plan and redevelop land around airports that had to be abandoned as a result of airport expansion.


  • Implementing precision navigation– As part of NextGen, the bill mandates the development of precision navigation procedures at the nation's largest 35 airports by 2015, which include both SeaTac and Portland International Airport. The entire National Airspace System is required to be covered by 2016.


  • Protecting the environment– Because of fewer delays and more direct flight paths, by 2018 the FAA expects airlines to save more than 1.4 billion gallons of aviation fuel and carbon emissions to be reduced by nearly 14 million tons.


  • Incentivizing life-saving air ambulances– The FAA reauthorization bill includes a provision authored by Sen. Cantwell that will lower the cost for air ambulances services, such as Inland Northwest Heath Services and Airlift Northwest, to purchase fixed wing aircraft to use as air ambulances. Fixed-wing aircraft are used to fly longer distances and are more common in rural areas. The act clarifies that the general restriction against the use of tax-exempt bonds for purchasing an airplane does not apply in the case of planes that are equipped for and exclusively dedicated to providing acute care emergency medical services.


  • Supporting airline workers– The FAA reauthorization bill includes a provision authored by Cantwell that will help protect the pensions of more than 2,000 Washington airline workers who were affected by airline bankruptcies. Affected employees will be able to put up to 90 percent of their bankruptcy settlements into traditional Individual Retirement Accounts.

The FAA modernization comes at a crucial time. America’s passengers and cargo airlines drive nearly 11 million jobs and $1.2 trillion in annual economic activity, yet America is the only Western nation that still relies on a 60-year-old, ground-based air traffic control system instead of the more efficient, satellite-based system used by other developed nations. Projections indicate a significant increase in demand for air travel over the next 15 years, and the nation’s current air traffic system is quickly reaching its capacity.

As chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, Cantwell was instrumental in the bill’s passage. She also authored language to ensure the FAA’s timely deployment of precision landing technology at Sea-Tac. At a hearing on January 31, 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.”

Cantwell has long fought to advance and modernize the nation’s aviation economy and skilled workforce. Soon after taking office, she passed legislation as part of a previous FAA reauthorization bill creating AMTAS at the University of Washington. The center leads the industry’s research of advanced aviation materials, such as composites and aluminum alloys, for use in future aircraft. In 2001, Cantwell also helped land initial funding to help grow a training program in advanced aviation materials started in the late 90s at Edmonds Community College. Since then, several other training programs at the state level have spun off from these initial programs and are currently helping to produce skilled aviation workers for the state and nation using state and federal funds.