WASHINGTON - The Senate recently took an important step toward keeping the nation - and especially Michigan - connected to the global economy.
In approving a bill to authorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, we voted for a modern U.S. aviation system, one that can move people and goods from coast to coast and bring visitors to our nation from around the world. Importantly, the legislation continues the Essential Air Service Program. Michigan is one of the biggest beneficiaries of this program, which keeps less populated communities that are far from major hub airports connected to the air transportation network.
Why was this legislation so important? A safe and efficient aviation system goes hand in hand with a strong economy. It goes hand in hand with job creation. We are fortunate to have the best aviation system in the world, and we must continue to make the necessary investments and upgrades to retain that high standard. The FAA reauthorization will help us to do this by addressing problems of capacity, congestion and delays.
Sen. Carl Levin
Michigan is a prime example of how important the FAA programs are to our economy. Funding included in past authorization bills has helped build new air traffic control towers in Kalamazoo and Traverse City, and airport runways across the state, from Detroit Wayne County Metro Airport in the south to Sawyer International Airport in the Upper Peninsula. These projects and others like them keep people and commerce flowing smoothly and efficiently, creating jobs and helping Michigan businesses connect with the global economy.
Another key component of this bill will modernize our air traffic control system by building the Next Generation Air Transportation System of satellite-based navigation. The NextGen system will be more accurate and more efficient than the current radar-based air traffic control system. That allows more direct routes for aircraft, fuel savings for airlines, less harmful emissions into the environment and less travel time for passengers.
But to many Michigan communities, the Essential Air Service Program is perhaps the most important aspect of the bill. EAS was established when the federal government deregulated the airline industry in the 1970s. Under deregulation, airlines that had been required to serve some smaller airports no longer had to do so. EAS provided funding to help keep airline service at airports where commercial flights might not otherwise be affordable.
This program has made a big difference to Michigan. Eight airports in our state have commercial air service thanks to EAS: Alpena County, Houghton County, Delta County, Ford Airport near Iron Mountain, Gogebic-Iron County, Manistee County, Muskegon County and Sault Ste. Marie.
By ensuring commercial air service to these communities, the EAS Program keeps them connected to the stream of global commerce. That's important to existing companies that are competing in a worldwide economy, and it's an important draw for companies considering one of these communities as a business location.
Still, some of my colleagues don't support this program, considering it an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. I strongly disagreed. I heard from business and community leaders who told me the program is an economic lifeline for them. At a time when we're doing everything we can to compete and to increase the number of jobs, cutting off that lifeline would make no sense. I was pleased to join a bipartisan majority in rejecting an attempt to strip this funding from the FAA bill.
Passage of the FAA authorization bill was a victory for travelers and businesses in Michigan and across the country. It was an important early step in what I hope will be a continuing focus by Congress on creating jobs and strengthening the economy.
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Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.