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Begich Supports FAA Reauthorization in Senate

Bill creates jobs, improves aviation safety in Alaska

With an eye on stimulating job creation and improving aviation safety, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich voted to pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act.  With widespread impacts on aviation in Alaska, the legislation passed with strong bipartisan support, 87 to 8.

The bill makes significant investments in FAA programs, including $8.1 billion nationwide for the Airport Improvement Program which will create American jobs and support airport infrastructure in Alaska.  The bill includes $200 million a year for the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes regular air service to rural areas throughout the country, including $12 million to support service to 44 communities in Alaska.

Additionally, the FAA Reauthorization bill included an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), which was the text of a bill Coburn introduced earlier this month with Begich.  That legislation, S. 282, the Orphan Earmark bill, would rescind and return to the Treasury earmarks that remain 90 percent or more unused nine years after being appropriated.  The total savings of the Coburn-Begich bill could exceed $500 million. 

Earlier today, Sen. Begich led a group of Senators who fought back an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), which would have repealed the Essential Air Service Program.  On Monday, Sen. Begich took to the Senate floor to speak on the negative impact the McCain amendment would have on rural communities in Alaska. 

Begich noted aviation is the equivalent to Alaska's "highway in the sky," and that goods, people, mail, and medical supplies all have to be flown into many rural communities.  Begich read from letters he received from communities served by EAS and the small air carriers that fly EAS routes which all stood to lose service had the McCain amendment passed.

"Unfortunately, Senator McCain doesn't understand aviation is a lifeline for Alaskans.  I am thrilled we were able to defeat his amendment, which would have isolated communities and greatly increased the cost of living throughout rural Alaska," Begich said.

The McCain Amendment failed by a vote of 61 to 38.

The FAA bill also accelerates the deployment of "NextGen," the comprehensive initiative to modernize the nation's air traffic control system from outdated ground-based radar to a more accurate satellite tracking system. The technology at the heart of NextGen, known as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) was first tested in Alaska in an effort to reduce aviation accidents as part of the Capstone program in 1999. 

Other provisions in the FAA Reauthorization Act benefiting Alaska include:
  • Language necessary to complete land transactions relating to the widening of Anchorage's 5th Avenue;
  • The FAA will be directed to implement a system to improve volcanic ash avoidance for aircraft;
  • Language offered by Begich allows for the expanded use of Unmanned Aerial Systems in the Arctic which are used for scientific research by University of Alaska Fairbanks;
  • Passenger Bill of Rights which limits the amount of time an airline can keep a plane on the tarmac before it takes off.  The Passenger Bill of Rights also requires airlines to provide adequate food, beverage and restroom facilities while an aircraft is delayed on the ground.
  • Language which would provide limited exemptions for the transportation of cylinders of medical oxygen and other compressed gases aboard aircraft in Alaska.
"I'm glad we're on a path to resolving the oxygen issue, and I look forward to strengthening the language in conference," said Sen. Begich.

Begich said he is very appreciative of the leadership of Chairman Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in bringing this bill to the floor and he looks forward to working with Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congressman Don Young to protect the important provisions to Alaska when comes time to conference the legislation with the House.

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