Cantwell Calls For Surge of Federal Investment in Sustainable Aircraft Technology Poised to Make Flying Cleaner, Quieter, and Cheaper

“We should triple funding” for FAA’s CLEEN program, says Cantwell; “I have a lot of aerospace machinists in my state … they want to be on the cutting edge of technology”

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Chair U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called for increased federal funding to develop the next generation of aviation technology that cuts carbon emissions, reduces noise, and lowers fuel costs. 

"The FAA Continuous Low Energy, Emissions, and Noise (CLEEN) program will save 36 billion gallons of fuel by 2050, with savings [of] about $90 billion dollars for airlines," said Sen. Cantwell. "These emission cuts are equal to removing 3 million cars from the road between 2020 and 2050." 

"We should triple funding, in my opinion, for CLEEN in its next phase of focusing on zero-emission aircraft innovation," she added.

The CLEEN Program, administered by Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Environment and Energy, is a public-private partnership to develop new aircraft and engine technologies to reduce emissions, noise, and fuel burn. Increased funding for the CLEEN Program would help accelerate the development and integration of new technologies into current and future aircraft. 

The State of Washington is at the forefront of sustainable aviation research and development.

In March, Universal Hydrogen conducted a successful test flight in Moses Lake of a 84-foot Dash 8 with engines powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the largest aircraft ever to fly principally on hydrogen power. Universal Hydrogen co-founder Jon Gordon testified at today’s hearing, saying, “within a decade you will see our hydrogen-powered aircraft flying in nearly every region of the globe.”

The Senators also heard from Dr. Val Miftakhov, Founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, which has a location at Paine Field in Everett. In January, ZeroAvia conducted a successful test flight of a 19-seat Dornier 228 in the United Kingdom, the world’s largest retrofitted hydrogen-electric fuel cell aircraft to fly at the time. “This is not just an opportunity to make aviation cleaner,” said Miftakhov, “it's also opportunity to make a lot of affordable flying available to more and more people.”

Yesterday, Washington State University and Snohomish County announced plans for a new sustainable aviation fuel applied research and development center based at Paine Field. Sustainable aviation fuel has the potential to reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent when compared to conventional petroleum-based jet fuel. Snohomish County plans to apply for a grant via the Cantwell-led sustainable aviation fuels grant program included in the Inflation Reduction Act, now known as FAA’s Fueling Aviation’s Sustainable Transition via Sustainable Aviation Fuels (FAST-SAF) program.

Companies in the state like Boeing and Mukilteo-based ElectroImpact are both involved in the Hi-Rate Composite Aircraft Manufacturing (Hi-CAM) project, which supports lightweight thermoplastic and composite materials research and manufacturing. 

At the hearing, Sen. Cantwell urged Robert Pearce, Associate Administrator of the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, to accelerate progress in the manufacturing of cutting-edge aircraft using composite materials.

Sen. Cantwell said, “I have a lot of aerospace machinists in my state … They want to be on the cutting edge of technology, they want to be driving.”

Pearce responded, “And thermoplastics is one of the material systems we're focused on. We’re trying to be very objective about which materials systems will provide the best performance with respect to the application that's being desired. So we’re trying to keep that up.”

Sen. Cantwell asked Arjan Hegeman, GE Aerospace’s Advanced Technology Leader, about how soon industry can expect the next generation of commercial aircraft to be manufactured in the United States. Washington state’s skilled aviation technical workforce will be a key part of this effort.  

“David Calhoun, CEO of Boeing, has said a new U.S. major aircraft program will not be announced until 2030,” said Sen. Cantwell. “And that we wouldn't expect a U.S. commercial airliner, a new one, to be built [and enter] in [to] service until 2035 at the earliest. I think part of what they're waiting for is what they think is clarity and leaps in energy engine technology. Do you agree with that timeframe?”

“We’re working very hard on maturing our technologies and demonstrating that they are safe and durable for engine programs that can move into a certification type effort,” said Hegeman. “So for the next couple of years, this decade, we have a series of demonstrators that do exactly that. Once that is completed, and you have shown that indeed these technologies are delivering and are safe, at that point you kick off the design effort and a certification effort towards those new applications, which then would fall sometime in the 2030s.”

GE’s Mr. Hegeman confirmed the company is in the process of developing next generation commercial aircraft engines that will increase fuel efficiency, saying that their technology will improve efficiency “by more than 20%, which is significantly more than what you traditionally get in a generational update.”

Sen. Cantwell has been a strong advocate for sustainable aviation and has worked on several legislative initiatives including securing $297 million for the Sustainable Aviation Fuel and Low-Emissions Aviation Technology Grant Program, now known as the Fueling Aviation’s Sustainable Transition (FAST) program, which was enacted in the Inflation Reduction Act. She also partnered with her Senate colleagues to introduce the Sustainable Skies Act in 2019, a version of which was also incorporated in the Inflation Reduction Act to provide a tax credit to increase the supply of sustainable aviation fuel. Last year’s CHIPS & Science Act, spearheaded by Sen. Cantwell, required NASA to continue research into advanced materials manufacturing. As Senate Commerce Committee Chair, Cantwell will lead Congressional efforts this year to reauthorize the FAA and spur the adoption of more environmentally friendly and technologically advanced aviation options.

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s opening statement is available HERE, audio HERE.

Video of Jon Gordon’s opening statement is available HERE, audio HERE. Video of Dr. Val Miftakhov’s opening statement is available HERE, audio HERE.

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s Q&A portion is available HERE, audio HERE.

A full transcript is available HERE.