Alaska Aviation Bill Introduced
Legislation to Protect and
Improve Vital Programs
June 03, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), today
introduced legislation designed to protect and improve important
aviation programs in Alaska, including an exemption that would
allow the Iditarod Air Force to accept cost deferments for flying
in support of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Murkowski's bill, the Alaska Omnibus Aviation Improvement Act
(S.1170), was introduced in advance of Senate consideration of
the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill
during the 111th Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives
passed its version of an FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 915)
"I hope the Senate will consider these Alaska priorities
as we debate the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill," Murkowski
Alaska Flight Service Stations
Flight Service Stations, such as the Ketchikan Flight Service
Station, provide pilots with information necessary to safely
plan and complete flights. Services include preflight briefings
and in-flight updates regarding weather conditions, flight restrictions,
volcanic activity and notices to airmen regarding airport facilities
and runway conditions. Flight Service also monitors flight plans
filed by pilots and coordinates the first response for lost aircraft.
In the aviation-dependant state of Alaska, Flight Service has
a special importance. The FAA recognized this fact in 2005 when
it outsourced the Flight Service functions in the lower 48 but
kept Alaska Flight Service Stations intact. The contracted stations
in the lower 48 states have caused inconvenience for pilots,
which could pose serious problems in Alaska. H.R. 915, the
House-passed FAA reauthorization, includes the establishment
of a monitoring system for contracted Flight Service Stations
"Flight Service Stations provide vital services to pilots
in Alaska and across the country. As the Congress moves to improve
the outsourced Flight Service Stations in the lower 48, we must
also ensure that the FAA maintains its commitment to Alaskan
aviators," Murkowski said.
Senator Murkowski's bill recognizes that the important services
provided by the Alaska Flight Service stations cannot be continued
without proper personnel and equipment. The bill would require
the FAA to create and implement a plan to train flight service
specialists. A formal training program for Alaskan flight service
specialists does not currently exist since the FAA no longer
offers the initial training. Further, the bill would require
the FAA to examine existing Flight Service stations and create
a schedule for necessary inspections and upgrades.
The Medallion Foundation is a non-profit organization that works
to reduce aviation accidents in Alaska. In addition to training
and educational services, Medallion sets voluntary standards
above FAA regulations that air carriers strive to meet. The
program is recognized as an innovative method to foster a safety-conscious
culture, and has been funded by Congress for many years. Most
recently, the Medallion Foundation received $2.375 million in
the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill (Pub. L. 111-8).
Murkowski's bill would authorize the Medallion Foundation to
receive federal funding from 2009 to 2012.
Alaska Aviation Safety Project
The Alaska Aviation Safety Project is a joint venture between
the state of Alaska and the federal government that focuses on
general aviation safety. The Foundation is currently authorized
to receive federal funding in 2004 through 2007 to develop three
dimensional maps of Alaska's main aviation corridors. (49 U.S.C
106(k)(2)(F)). As this important project is ongoing, Senator
Murkowski's bill would extend the authorization through 2012.
Trainee Positions in Airport Improvement Program (AIP)
Federal funding from the AIP grants currently cannot be used
to create trainee positions. Trainee positions are important
for the workforce development necessary to sustain a viable economy.
Other agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration,
allow grant recipients to create workforce development programs.
A much higher proportion of federal infrastructure spending
in Alaska goes to airports, as compared to the lower 48 states.
This puts Alaska at a disadvantage when it comes to creating
a sustainable workforce.
"Workforce development is imperative, especially during
these tough economic times," Murkowski said. "Allowing
flexibility for the State of Alaska to create trainee programs
with AIP funding is a simple way to improve the strength of our
economy at no additional cost to the taxpayer."
The bill would require the FAA to allow the State of Alaska to
create trainee programs with AIP funds, as is currently done
with Highway funds.
Iditarod Air Force Exemption
Each March, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race retraces the path
of the heroes who, in 1925, faced Alaska's wilderness to transport
lifesaving serum from Anchorage to Nome. The all-volunteer Iditarod
Air Force has supported the race for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately,
the Iditarod Air Force has recently struggled with FAA regulations
prohibiting volunteer pilots from accepting cost deferments,
such as fuel, accommodations and food. The Iditarod Air Force
was granted exemptions to operate the 2008 and 2009 race, which
Murkowski strongly supported.
"The Iditarod is a hallmark of the Alaskan spirit, and it
could not go on without the efforts of the Iditarod Air Force,"
Murkowski said. "The FAA's lack of rules to allow volunteer
flights should not jeopardize the future of the Iditarod. The
FAA must find a long-term solution that allows volunteer pilots
to support the race, while protecting public safety and the interests
of commercial carriers."
Murkowski's bill would require the FAA to grant a five-year exemption
to the Iditarod Air Force. The exemption would allow the Iditarod
to accept cost deferments for flying in support of the race.
Importantly, the exemption would also require the FAA to ensure
safety and check the availability of alternative modes of transportation.
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