Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Port of Seattle leaders and aviation technology innovators at Sea-Tac Airport Monday to highlight the Seattle-area impact of the Federal Aviation Administration's reauthorization bill, which passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill will modernize the air transit system, supporting local businesses, technological innovation, and Washington state's robust trade economy. Under the legislation, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) could receive millions of dollars in Airport Improvement (AIP) Funds critical to improving air travel efficiency and safety. Western Washington also stands to benefit from high-tech jobs created to support the development and implementation of a 21st century air traffic control system called NextGen. The bill also invests in research and development of 21st century aviation technology, including work being done at the University of Washington.
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 passed the Senate February 17th by an 87-8 margin.
"Modernizing air travel is a big win for high-tech Washington state jobs and will help maintain our state's position as a national leader in aerospace innovation," Senator Cantwell said. "Seattle-Tacoma International Airport serves as our gateway to the Pacific, moving millions of passengers each year and air cargo to 23 countries. The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill will modernize air travel, supporting our state's robust trade economy and making our air travel system even safer and more efficient."
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.
In total, the FAA reauthorization bill authorizes $8 billion in AIP funds for infrastructure and safety improvements at airports in Washington and across the country. Nationwide, the AIP funding 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. 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. Last year, SeaTac boarded over 15 million passengers. The airport directly employs nearly 90,000 people. For King County alone, the economic impact of SeaTac is nearly $17 billion dollars per year and nearly 150,000 jobs.
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. The FAA reauthorization bill could more bring high-tech aerospace jobs to the Seattle area to support the development and implementation of modernization.
In 2009, nearly 20 percent of flights were delayed nationwide. At SeaTac, over 13,000 flights were delayed, or 4.1 percent of all flights. 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.