Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz voted to pass the FAA Reauthorization Act, a measure that seeks federal funding to improve airport safety and infrastructure, and maintain flights to underserved areas, including Kalaupapa and Kamuela in Hawaiʻi.
Schatz, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation, also introduced a provision to the measure that would improve child safety on airplanes.
Other highlights of the legislation include initiatives to strengthen aviation forecasting to reduce flight delays, and help prevent the spread of communicable diseases such as avian flu and Ebola through travel.
“As an island state, air travel is critical to our economy and our daily lives,” said Senator Schatz in a statement.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 authorizes funding for the Airport Improvement Program at $3.75 billion, a $400 million increase from last year.
The grant program, which Senator Schatz has worked to support, provides funding to improve airport safety with increased investments in infrastructure such as runaways and lighting. Senator Schatz requested the committee consider an increase because AIP is a critical source of funding for airports and the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation relies on it for airport investments.
The legislation approves funding for the Essential Air Service program, a program that ensures access to air transportation for small and rural communities that would otherwise not be served. In Hawai‘i, the communities of Kalaupapa and Kamuela qualify for EAS and are able to provide air service based on the support of this partnership with the federal government.
The bill adopted Senator Schatz’s bipartisan Airplane KITS Act (S. 2536). This legislation requires the FAA to review and update the emergency medical kits that are on all planes in order to respond to passengers’ medical emergencies. This is the first time the kits will be updated in 20 years and will have a particular emphasis on ensuring the medical kits include medicine and equipment appropriate for children who have an emergency in-flight.
The bill also contains a weather-related provision at Senator Schatz’s request. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has successfully partnered with the FAA and airports in especially congested areas such as Chicago, Atlanta, and New York to provide additional weather forecasting. According to NOAA, this partnership led to an almost immediate reduction of weather-related air traffic delays in the Chicago area by over 50%.
There have been concerns that budget constraints could curtail this work and ultimately result in more traffic delays for travelers. The bill requires NOAA and the FAA to compare the costs and benefits of this program and describe how they will ensure travelers are not going to see more traffic delays if they were to permanently eliminate this arrangement.