Cantwell Secures Important Wins for Washington State Travelers, Airports in FAA Reauthorization Bill

Legislation will increase availability of bomb-sniffing dogs, establish important new protections for air travelers, fund grants that support Washington state airports

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate aviation subcommittee, helped secure Senate passage of bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for five years. Senator Cantwell is a lead sponsor of the bipartisan bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 93-6 and now heads to President Trump to be signed into law.

“Everybody in the state of Washington knows our airports are bursting at the seams,” Senator Cantwell said. “This long-term infrastructure bill will bring hundreds of millions of dollars of investments to our airports in the Pacific Northwest and make a major down payment on security and efficiency to help us handle that growth.”

In the legislation, Cantwell secured a number of important provisions for Washington state travelers and airports, including continued investments in airport infrastructure, increasing the use of bomb-sniffing dogs to bolster safety and improve security wait times, the establishment of key consumer protections, and continued support for crucial funding programs that have benefitted airports throughout the state.

Reauthorization of the FAA is critical to Washington state, a nationwide leader in aerospace and aerospace manufacturing jobs. These jobs are a key economic driver in the state, with more than 132,000 workers in the industry and more than 1,350 aerospace-related companies operating in the state.

Reliable access to air service is a critical economic factor in Washington state and throughout the country. In Washington state, 70 percent of gross business income is generated by businesses within five miles of an airport, and nearly 97 percent is generated by businesses within 10 miles of an airport.

Specifically, the legislation will:

Increase the availability of bomb-sniffing dogs to airports around the country

  • Includes provisions championed by Cantwell to expand the use of bomb-sniffing dogs in passenger screening, cargo screening, and airport security. The bill would also allow airports to train their own canines through certified programs. Over the past few years, Cantwell has worked with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) to get the airport more bomb-sniffing dogs, which help reduce security wait times by nearly half while maintaining a high level of passenger safety.

Maintain important programs that support Washington state airports and passengers

  • Maintains funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which pays for critical infrastructure like runways, taxiways, and safety equipment. From 2013-2017, Washington state airports received $380 million from these grants;
  • Provides full funding for contract towers, which provide a critical and cost-effective layer of safety at smaller airports. The funding in the bill will help keep contract towers operating at airports in Spokane (Felts Field), Yakima, Walla Walla, Tacoma Narrows, Olympia, Bellingham, and Renton;
  • Extends the Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grant program and increases the program’s funding from $6 million to $10 million. Multiple airports in Washington state have benefitted from SCASD grants: Spokane International Airport received one to establish a daily non-stop flight to Los Angeles in 2013, and Pangborn Memorial Airport in Wenatchee received one to establish non-stop air service to the San Francisco Bay Area earlier this year;
  • Continues funding for the Advanced Materials Center of Excellence at the University of Washington, which Cantwell played a crucial role in establishing in 2003.

Improve protections for the traveling public

  • Directs the FAA to establish a standard for minimum seat size to ensure passenger comfort and safety;
  • Establishes a bill of rights for passengers with disabilities to ensure they have equal access to air travel and are treated with dignity and respect;
  • Prohibits airlines from involuntarily bumping passengers who have already boarded their flight;
  • Creates a dedicated Aviation Consumer Advocate position at the U.S. Department of Transportation to safeguard the needs of air travelers throughout the country.

Improve airport and air traffic safety

  • Improves the FAA’s air traffic control system by assisting in the adaptation of 21st Century air traffic control technologies, known collectively as “NextGen”;
  • Requires flight attendants to have a 10-hour minimum rest period;
  • Contains a five-year moratorium on FAA efforts to remove Contract Weather Observers from some airports, including Spokane International Airport. Contract Weather Observers provide critical, on-the-ground reports that cannot be matched by automatic weather equipment;
  • Authorizes $5 million annually until 2023 for educational institutions to pair with industry partners to create programs to train and recruit aviation maintenance technicians, and requires the FAA to update the curriculum at aviation maintenance technician schools for the first time in 50 years.

In addition to Senator Cantwell, the FAA reauthorization bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Committee; and Roy Blunt (R-MO), the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, & Security.