Cantwell: FAA Reauthorization Is Critical to Growing WA's Robust Trade Economy

As incoming Aviation Subcommittee Chair, Cantwell leading bill that modernizes air traffic control, makes needed investments to support expected growth in air travel

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a press teleconference this afternoon with Senate leadership, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said the future economic competitiveness of our nation depends on a modernized, safe, and efficient air travel industry that keeps pace with our growing trade economy. 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 1940s-era ground-based air traffic control system instead of the more efficient, satellite-based system used by other developed nations. With projections indicating a significant increase in demand for air travel over the next 15 years, and the nation’s current air traffic system quickly reaching its capacity, Cantwell is leading the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill to transition the entire industry to 21st century technology to support America’s growing air travel needs, improve safety and efficiency of flight paths, and reduce fuel consumption.


“Our economy depends on moving passengers and cargo efficiently and cost-effectively throughout our country and around the world each day, but the air traffic system we rely on is outdated and lags behind current technology other countries use, limiting growth and future opportunities,” said Senator Cantwell. “Washington’s airports employ tens of thousands of people, contribute billions of dollars annually to our state economy, and serve as the nation’s gateway to new Asian markets. Without innovation and investments for our future, our growth is limited. As Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee, I will be working to enact this critical FAA reauthorization bill as well as other legislation that modernizes our aviation industry using long-term, commonsense solutions.”


During the press teleconference this afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senators Jay Rockefeller and Chuck Schumer to discuss the first jobs bill of the 112th Congress – the FAA reauthorization bill, it was announced that Cantwell would become Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee. As Chair of the Senate Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee, Cantwell will serve at the helm of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee with jurisdiction over civil aviation and the FAA. For more information on the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction, please visit the Subcommittee webpage.


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, reducing flight delays that cost the nation’s economy billions of dollars each year. 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, and encouraging economic growth.


Cantwell has long fought to advance and modernize the nation’s aviation economy and skilled workforce. Soon after taking office, Cantwell passed legislation as part of a previous FAA reauthorization bill creating the FAA’s first advanced aviation materials research center. Established in 2003 at the University of Washington, the Center for Excellence for Advanced Materials for Transportation Aviation Structures 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.


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. Both Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) and Boeing Field are at or above 60 percent cargo capacity.


Over 270,000 Washington state jobs are aviation related, representing 7.7 percent of employment in Washington state, and 7.4 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. In the lower 48, Washington ranks second in aviation-related jobs as a percentage of total employment. 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 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.