Cantwell on Aviation Bill: 'A Big Winner for Washington State Jobs'

FAA reauthorization bill passes Senate; would provide boost to Washington aviation and trade industries, make travel safer and more efficient

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the Senate’s passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, which will modernize the air transit system and invest in airport improvements in Washington state and across the country. 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, which passed by a 87-8 margin, will invest in 21st century technology for air travel, creating high-tech aviation jobs and improving efficiency for travel and trade. More than 270,000 Washington state jobs are aviation related, and one in three jobs are tied to trade.
“Modernizing air travel is a big winner for high-tech Washington state jobs,” Senator Cantwell said. “In Washington state, thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in annual economic impact depend on the efficiency of our air travel. Washington state stands to benefit from aviation jobs, airport improvement funds that create jobs and support economic growth, and from increased connectivity with our nation’s capital. This bill puts America back in the driver’s seat in the development of key technology to secure our future economic prosperity.”
Cantwell also served a critical role in securing increased access to the nation’s capital for the Pacific Northwest. Currently only two nonstop flights per day serve Washingtonians. Cantwell helped secure an agreement to allow more direct flights between the West Coast and Reagan National Airport, the closest airport to Washington, D.C.
The FAA reauthorization bill also provides Airport Improvement Funds (AIP), which will invest in infrastructure and safety improvements at airports in Washington and across the country. The bill authorizes $8 billion in AIP funds which could lead to the creation of up to 280,000 jobs. During fiscal year 2009, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) was awarded approximately $50,000,000 in AIP funds for runway construction and repairs, and 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 Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Paine Field and Bellingham International Airport.
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.
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. 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. Both SeaTac and Boeing Field are at or above 60 percent cargo capacity.
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.
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