Cantwell-Sponsored Bill to Reauthorize FAA Soars through Commerce Committee, Includes Key Washington State Aviation Priorities

Cantwell secures provision to ensure noise mitigation project for Highline School District

Bill also promotes consumer protection, airport safety, and aerospace innovation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Technology and Science passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through fiscal year 2021. The bill is co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), ranking member of the Commerce Subcommittee Aviation Operations, Safety, & Security.

“Aviation service is critical to our rural economies,” said Senator Cantwell. “Whether it's Yakima, Tri Cities, Walla Walla, or Wenatchee, they all require the access to customers and tourists that air travel provides. We need to keep pushing for the flexibility to help these regions grow, and give them the critical infrastructure they need for air transportation.”

Through Senator Cantwell’s leadership, the bill includes several key Washington state priorities:

  • Noise mitigation projects in the Highline School District: SEA-TAC Airport is located in the center of Highline School District and many of the district’s schools are impacted by airport noise. Senator Cantwell’s amendment ensures several schools within the district have access to more than $30 million in Airport Improvement Grants for noise mitigation projects including replacement of doors, windows, and the installation of through-the-wall AC units, or for new construction to include noise mitigation. Click here for more background on this provision.
  • Protecting Contract Weather Observers: The Contract Weather Observer Program is crucial to safety at Spokane International Airport, where frequently changing weather patterns and frequent icing mean pilots rely heavily on precise, up-to-date information. Cantwell’s provision allows the airport to retain Contract Weather Observer (CWO) staff, who provide accurate weather observations and readings to the flight crews in the air. The provision will help ensure the safety of the more than 1.5 million people who travel through Spokane International Airport every year.
  • Keeps contract towers open: This provision maintains contract towers, which provides air traffic service in areas that would not have air traffic services otherwise, and add additional safety to the communities they serve. Contract towers in Washington state operate in Renton, Olympia, Bellingham, Spokane (Felts Field), Tacoma Narrows, and Walla Walla.
  • Contract tower cost share exemption provision: Cantwell’s provision reforms the FAA’s Contract Tower Cost Share Program. Under the current program, airports who contract out their air-traffic control must pay a portion of their operating costs to run their towers. Cantwell’s provision changes the current cost structure to provide an exemption from the cost sharing program for small airports, like Walla Walla Airport, that have at least 25,000 annual passenger boardings. The provision could save the Walla Walla Airport more than $85,000 per year.
  • Enhancing the Small Community Air Service Development Program grants (SCASDP): Senator Cantwell’s provision extends the SCASDP and increases funding from $6 million to $10 million. The SCASDP helps small communities address air service and airfare issues. Wenatchee, Port Angeles, Walla Walla, Pasco, Spokane and Yakima have all benefited from the SCASDP program. In fact, the SCASDP helped Spokane get a direct flight to LA in 2013.
  • Advanced Materials Center of Excellence: Cantwell secured $500,000 in continued funding for the Advanced Materials Center of Excellence at the University of Washington, which has played an important role in the development of advanced manufacturing technologies that enabled the Boeing 787 to be one of the most efficient aircrafts in the history of commercial aviation.

The impact that air service has on the economy cannot be overstated. In Washington state, 97% of Gross Business Income is generated by businesses within 10 miles of an airport, and 70% by businesses within a short 5 miles of an airport.

As former Chair and current ranking member of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, Cantwell has made airport infrastructure and air travel high priorities. Since 2014, Cantwell has helped airports across Washington state secure more than $21,240,000 in funding including for airport improvements and increased air travel.  Cantwell has also lead the way in ensuring SEA-TAC airport has the resources it needs, including bomb sniffing canines, to reduce security wait times.

Among other provisions, the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017 promotes:

CONSUMER PROTECTION & AIR TRAVEL ENHANCEMENTS – Includes new consumer protections for the flying public, updates Department of Transportation (DOT) rules following high-profile airline incidents, and takes steps to help passengers needing assistance during air travel.

DRONE SAFETY & INNOVATION – Addresses safety and privacy issues, criminalizes reckless drone behavior around manned aircraft and runways, authorizes FAA drone registration authority, and boosts enforcement while creating new opportunities for testing and promoting innovative uses.

AIRLINE SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS & AVIATION ACCESS – Includes new requirements on the bulk transfer of lithium batteries, improves communicable disease preparedness, and supports contract air traffic control towers, which largely serve rural communities.

GENERAL AVIATION (GA) SAFETY & PROTECTIONS – Offers GA airports more flexibility to facilitate infrastructure investment, applies the same medical certificate requirements to air balloon operators as other licensed pilots, and expands the rights of pilots in FAA enforcement proceedings.

AIRCRAFT CERTIFICATION REFORMS – Improves international competitiveness of U.S. aerospace manufacturing by improving the FAA’s processes for certifying aircraft designs and modifications, as well as ensuring the benefits of such certification processes for manufacturers competing in global markets.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL & NEXTGEN – Acts on recommendations of independent government watchdogs for improving the FAA’s transition to 21st century air traffic control technologies, known collectively as “NextGen,” and requires the FAA to assess how each NextGen program contributes to a more safe and efficient air traffic control system and its current implementation status.

INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT & STUDY – Increases authorized funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which pays for infrastructure like runways, by $400 million to an annual level of $3.75 billion (well within the projected trust fund surplus), and streamlines the application process for Passenger Facility Charges (PFC). Requires a study and recommendations on upgrading and restoring the nation’s airport infrastructure.

Washington is a leader in aerospace manufacturing and aerospace jobs. With more than 132,000 workers and 1,350 aerospace-related companies, aerospace is a key economic driver for the state.  Cantwell has been a tireless defender of the aerospace industry and airline passengers in Washington state, fighting to ensure rural airports have the resources they need, passengers are treated fairly, and the state’s manufacturers can compete and win on the world stage.

The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017 is co-sponsored by Senator John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the Committee’s ranking member; and, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee Aviation Operations, Safety, & Security.