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Moving forward on FAA reauthorization bill
February 18, 2011
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  • By Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

    February 15, 2011

    We have big challenges we need to address to help American businesses, large and small, remain competitive in an increasingly global economy.

    One of the biggest challenges we face is our declining infrastructure. Business needs a safe, reliable transportation infrastructure to keep the flow of commerce moving.

    But, as President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address, when American engineers took a look at our transportation infrastructure, they graded it as a “D”.

    Our declining infrastructure threatens not only our safety, but also our global economic competitiveness. America is falling behind economic competitors like Europe and China, which are making significantly more robust investments in their infrastructure.

    In the United States, we spend about 2 percent of GDP on infrastructure, which is a 50 percent decline from 1960. China and Europe, on the other hand, spend close to 9 percent and 5 percent of GDP on infrastructure, respectively.

    We need to make the kind of smart investments that will help keep America competitive.

    That’s why I’m glad that we’re moving forward with this bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill. It’s been almost four years since Congress passed an FAA bill. In that time, our economic competitors, like China, have continued to invest in their 21st-century aviationsystems.

    Airports provide a critical component of our state’s commerce, bringing business to New Hampshire and shipping cargo in and out of our state. The major airport in my home state – Manchester airport – generates over $1.2 billion in economic activity every year, the majority of which comes from out-of-state residents and foreign travelers.

    And the aviation industry in my state and across the country provides good jobs for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and many more. Manchester Airport provides over 1,900 jobs alone.

    This legislation will accomplish the long overdue task of upgrading one critical component of our aviation infrastructure – the air traffic control system — to an efficient, 21st century system called NextGen.

    Now, I don’t think many people realize that when they get in airplanes, the pilots and air traffic controllers are using a 20th century technology to navigate the skies. While our cell phones and cars have global positioning systems, multi-million dollar planes use World War II-era radar systems.

    The system we have now is inefficient. It wastes the time and money of everyone involved in the aviation industry. As Chairman Rockefeller has pointed out many times, even Mongolia has a more advance air traffic control system than ours. That’s just unacceptable.

    And not surprisingly, this outdated system is at capacity. According to the FAA, delays resulting from the constraints on the system cost the United States over $9 billion every year. And that number will continue to rise if nothing is done.

    We need to take action. The FAA forecasts that the aviation system will carry more than a billion airline passengers annually in 2023. We cannot afford to let such an important part of our 21st century economy languish with 20th-century technology.

    By investing in NextGen, our air traffic controllers will finally have the 21st-century technologies they need to make our system more efficient.

    Let me give you an example of the progress that NextGen would make.

    Right now, air traffic controllers give all of their commands to pilots over the radio, telling them when and where they’ll be landing. Because all of the pilots in the area are listening, there’s a lot of miscommunication. Although the pilots and controllers are very professional, people talk over each other and pilots hear the wrong information. This system wastes time and puts the flying public in jeopardy.

    Once NextGen is in place, controllers will be able to type a command and send it directly to the plane. To all of us who use email, this sounds pretty basic. But it’s an example of the basic upgrades that are needed to make our aviation system more efficient and safer.

    By funding NextGen, this bill will bring our air traffic control system into the 21st Century. NextGen will reduce congestion by allowing planes to fly more direct routes. It will conserve energy. And it will make flying safer for everyone.

    And by reducing flight delays, NextGen will make flying a better experience for everyone.

    Now, some flight delays are just unavoidable. We can’t control the weather.

    But when delays can’t be avoided, we can make sure that airlines are treating their customers fairly. That’s why this bill includes the Passengers’ Bill of Rights. I cosponsored the Passengers’ Bill of Rights after a businesswoman from Bedford, New Hampshire, Jennifer Shirkani, told me her horror stories of being stuck on tarmacs for hours, without
    access to food and water. These experiences were so frustrating that Jennifer became a leader in the movement to get this legislation passed.

    Unfortunately, her stories have been all too common in recent years. According to the Department of Transportation, hundreds of thousands of passengers have been stuck on a tarmac for more than three hours.

    Although we weren’t able to pass the Passengers’ Bill of Rights last year, the Department of Transportation put a rule in place that has essentially ended long tarmac delays. This bill codifies these protections in law so that we won’t go back to the days when airlines left travelers on the tarmac.

    I want to commend Chairman Rockefeller for producing a strong bill, and I urge my colleagues to join me in voting to [move to debate this legislation/pass this legislation].

    Date: 2011-02-15