Cantwell: Aviation Bill Will Modernize Air Travel, Create Eastern WA Jobs

Recently passed FAA reauthorization bill makes needed investments to support innovation, WA's robust trade economy

SPOKANE, WA – Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said the recently-passed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill will modernize the air transit system and invest in airport improvements in Spokane, supporting economic growth in Eastern Washington.
Speaking from Absolute Aviation Services in Spokane, a small business that specializes in aerospace engineering repairs, Cantwell highlighted the job-creating aspects of the legislation. Under the FAA reauthorization, Spokane International Airport could receive millions of dollars in Airport Improvement (AIP) Funds critical to improving air travel efficiency and safety. Eastern Washington also stands to benefit from high-tech jobs created to support the development and implementation of a 21st century air traffic control system called NextGen.
Cantwell played a key role in shepherding the bill through the Senate and successfully defeated attempts to gut airport improvement funds critical to improving air travel efficiency and safety. The modernization bill passed the Senate February 17th by an 87-8 margin.
“Spokane International Airport serves as an aerospace hub for the Inland Pacific Northwest, moving more than three million passengers and 46,000 tons of cargo last year,” Senator Cantwell said. “Improving our airports is important not only for air travel efficiency and safety, but also for attracting more businesses and investment to our local communities. The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill will innovate and modernize air travel, bringing more jobs and investment dollars to the region.
In total, the FAA reauthorization bill authorizes $8 billion in AIP funds for infrastructure and safety improvements at airports in Washington and across the country. Nationwide, the AIP funding could lead to the creation of up to 280,000 jobs. During fiscal year 2009, Spokane International Airport was awarded approximately $22,000,000 for airport infrastructure repairs. In total, $154,000,000 in AIP funds was awarded to Washington state for airport improvements in fiscal year 2009, including to Pullman/Moscow Regional Airport and the Rosalia Municipal Airport in Whitman County, and to Wilbur Municipal Airport and Davenport Municipal Airport in Lincoln County.
In the lower 48, Washington ranks second in aviation-related jobs as a percentage of total employment. Spokane International Airport handled more than three million passengers last year 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.
The 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.
The FAA reauthorization bill would accelerate the industry’s air traffic control modernization efforts by converting the nation’s air traffic control from a ground-based system to one that uses GPS. The GPS system, called NextGen, will allow aircraft to move more precisely into and out of airports, improving air safety and reducing flight delays that cost the nation’s economy billions of dollars each year. The FAA reauthorization bill could more bring high-tech aerospace jobs to Eastern Washington to support the development and implementation of modernization.
In 2009, nearly 20 percent of flights were delayed. According to FAA data, by 2018 NextGen will reduce total flight delays by about 21 percent, making air travel more efficient, reducing fuel consumption, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent, and encouraging economic growth. 
The bill also protects consumers by requiring airlines to develop contingency plans for delays while passengers are on an aircraft. Plans must include how airlines will provide adequate food, water, access to restrooms, and timely and accurate information regarding the flight to passengers.
In Washington state, one in three jobs relies on international trade and last year, the state exported nearly $5.6 billion in air cargo. Washington’s total air cargo volume is expected to grow from approximately 600,000 tons in 2005 to 1.4 million tons in 2030. But Washington’s busiest airports are already either reaching or exceeding their total capacity, and modernization is needed to allow for future growth. Typically, when airport utilization capacity hits 60 percent, it indicates a need for planning, and over 70 percent means dramatic delays. A utilization rate of 100 percent means nearly catastrophic delays and severely limits operational efficiencies. Spokane International Airport’s cargo utilization capacity rate is 934 percent, according to a 2005 Washington State Department of Transportation study. The same study predicted that by 2030, Spokane International Airport’s utilization rate would grow to just under 2,000 percent.
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