Just-Passed Cantwell FAA Bill Boosts Next-Generation Aviation to Help Make Skies Cleaner, Quieter, and Safer

Bill includes top Cantwell priorities to develop low-emission aviation fuel, alternative propulsion systems, and advanced aircraft materials in WA; New advancements in aviation tech will support Research & Manufacturing at UW, WSU, as well as pioneering companies investing locally like MagniX, Universal Hydrogen, & ZeroAvia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, following months of negotiations led by Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for five years. Sen. Cantwell led efforts to secure historic increases in FAA Research, Engineering, and Development (RED) funding - $1.59 billion over five years - to help the U.S. stay competitive in the global race for innovative and sustainable aerospace technologies and maintain the Puget Sound area’s world class aviation workforce.

This legislation will "usher in the next generation of technologies for aviation, not just drones and air mobility aircraft, but also the research and development necessary to see the electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft industry take off. Companies like ZeroAvia in my state or Universal Hydrogen are leading the way of the next generation of strategies that will help us make these technologies a reality,” Sen. Cantwell said on the Senate floor last week.

Sen. Cantwell also spoke on the Senate floor yesterday after the legislation passed; watch that speech HERE.

The legislation prioritizes investments to enhance Washington state’s leadership in innovative aviation technologies and robust aviation research and development ecosystem, including provisions that will:

  • Expand Research at the FAA’s Joint Centers of Excellence for Advanced Materials at UW: The bill ensures the continued operation of the FAA’s Joint Centers of Excellence for Advanced Materials, co-led by the University of Washington and Wichita State University, and expands its research into composites, thermoplastics, carbon fiber polymers, and additive manufacturing to make aircraft lighter and more fuel efficient. To improve aircraft accessibility for individuals with disabilities, the bill expands the Center’s research focus into commercial aircraft crash worthiness and passenger safety, including materials to facilitate safe wheelchair restraint systems aboard aircraft.
  • Continue Innovative Research into Alternative Aviation Fuels at FAA’s ASCENT Center of Excellence: The bill reauthorizes the continued operation of the FAA’s Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and environment (ASCENT), an alternative aviation fuels research consortium co-led by Washington State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The bill also expands the program’s research of hydrogen fuel and the safe use of alternative aviation fuels used in aircraft that also use electric propulsion systems.
  • Exercise FAA Leadership in Hydrogen Research and Policy Development: The bill requires FAA to coordinate with the Department of Energy to develop and execute a research strategy to enable the safe use of hydrogen in civil aviation. The FAA would also be required to exercise leadership in developing policies, standards, and regulations to inform the safe certification of hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft.
  • Further Drone Research & Disaster Deployment: The bill expands FAA research to safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM) into the national airspace system, including making it easier for first responders to use drones for disaster response.
  • Stimulate Growth of Small and Startup Aviation Businesses: This bill levels the playing field so more small businesses can participate in the FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) Program, a public-private partnership seeding development of aircraft and engine technologies that will reduce noise, emissions, and fuel burn.
  • Provide New Federal Investments in Unleaded Fuels Resources: The bill expands eligibility under FAA’s Airport Improvement Program to fund critical infrastructure, such as storage tanks and pipelines, to support the transition from leaded aviation gasoline to unleaded aviation gasoline in airports across the country.
  • Create Pathways for Innovative New Ways to Fly: This bill supports research on how to best introduce emerging aviation technologies into the airspace, including electric propulsion and hydrogen-powered aircraft. The bill directs GAO to analyze key focus areas and regulatory steps needed to enable safe and scalable electric aircraft operations.

Among the provisions to enhance aviation research and development, Sen. Cantwell’s landmark legislation also strengthens consumer protections and improves aviation safety.

Full text of the bill is available HERE. A full breakdown of the bill’s components is HERE.

More information about the consumer protection provisions in the bill is HERE.

More information about the safety provisions in the bill is HERE.

More information about the workforce development provisions in the bill is HERE.

Sen. Cantwell is a longtime proponent of increasing federal support for research and development of sustainable aviation technologies. In March 2023, she held a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation focused on innovative and sustainable aviation technologies, and where she called on her colleagues to triple the budget for the CLEEN program.

“This is about winning a competitive race for the future,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Achieving net-zero aviation emissions by 2050, a target shared by industry and the federal government, will require shifts in commercial aircraft development and different fuel sources.”

Last month, Sen. Cantwell convened a roundtable at Kent-based aerospace company Blue Origin with stakeholders from across the industry including manufacturers, researchers, and aviation apprenticeship instructors to discuss the Biden Administration’s designation of Spokane as a national hub for aerospace material manufacturing; video of that roundtable is available HERE.

Sen. Cantwell first introduced the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill on June 12, 2023, along with Sens. Cruz, Duckworth and Moran, and the Committee passed the legislation with bipartisan support on February 8, 2024. The Committee held eight hearings to inform the bill’s drafting, including: Integrating new entrants into the National Airspace System on September 28, 2022, strengthening airline operations and consumer protections following the Southwest and holiday cancellations on February 9, 2023, modernizing the FAA’s NOTAM system following failures on February 15, 2023, overseeing aviation safety and the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act on March 8, 2023, strengthening the aviation workforce on March 16, 2023, enhancing consumer protections and connectivity in air transportation on March 23, 2023, advancing the next generation aviation technologies on March 29, 2023, and addressing close calls to improve aviation safety on November 9, 2023.