WASHINGTON, DC – Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) this morning addressed participants at The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and Airports Council International Summer Legislative Conference. Following an introduction by AAAE President Chip Barclay, Chairman Stevens made the following remarks:
Thank you, Chip. You could have just said that here’s the guy who has outlived most of his enemies. And, you’d have to try to unwrap the package to understand it, right Chip?
I do appreciate the opportunity to be with you again today and I’m delighted to tell you I’ve enjoyed joining many of you on your trips to Hawaii. I think that is one of the greatest conferences available to some of us to travel and meet with you and get to know you more.
It is no secret that my interest in aviation now is because our State is so heavily dependent upon aviation. Seventy percent of our cities and towns can be reached only by air. We don’t really use buses and taxis and trains the way you do because we have to use private airplanes. We have more licensed pilots in our State – seven times the national average. We have 21,000 active pilots and nearly 10,000 registered aircraft. We are really the aviation community of the country.
Programs that you intersect mean more to us than any other state. We rely on AIP (Airport Improvement Program) to really improve our infrastructure in ways that really no one else has to face. Since 1982, AIP has provided $1.3 billion for airport construction, development, and planning in our State. $221 million was distributed last year. The most important portion of that program for Alaska is cargo entitlement. That’s why I’m happy to be here today to tell you that very serious matters are coming before the Senate right now that affect this area. According to rankings based on cargo tonnage, Anchorage International Airport now ranks fourth among the world’s cargo airports. By weight, it ranks first among all U.S. air gateways into our country – 26 percent of U.S. international air freight moves through our airport in Anchorage.
There are many concerns about the suggested funding and AIP formula changes that the President gave us in his budget. I am one who shares those concerns. At a field hearing that we held earlier this month in Anchorage, our airport director there, Mort Plumb, pointed out that those changes could have a significant impact on these operations in Alaska, particularly in Anchorage.
The proposed cargo entitlement changed from 3.5 percent to 3 percent and the reinstatement of the 8 percent limitation cap would reduce our current entitlement from $14.6 million to $6.8 million. That’s not much when you look at the whole program, but it would be a real dent in our expansion.
My amendment to the last FAA Reauthorization bill brought the cargo entitlement back to 3.5 percent and added cargo to the list of factors for AIP discretionary grants.
In previous years, increasing airport entitlements and removing funding caps have been among the top priorities for me and my staff. We believe we must continue along this path and maintain funding for all airport infrastructure which is vital to our efforts to once again address congestion and capacity issues for all airports.
As you know, in 10 years the number of aircraft in the system will double and additional ground infrastructure to meet this demand is absolutely necessary. Senator Bond and I are working on these issues and he will, as Chairman of the Subcommittee (for Transportation Appropriations), mark-up the Transportation Appropriations bill today.
And, earlier this year, as Chip said, I began a new chairmanship on Commerce and I promised AAAE when I spoke to your conference via video in January that I would listen to your people and I have tried to listen carefully to the advice that members of your industry have offered on a wide range of issues. And, we are currently looking at ways to modernize the whole ATC (Air Traffic Control) system, and actively pursuing the bonding proposal to pay for it.
We are working now with Senator Gregg on Appropriations to delete the proposed TSA fee increase and I think that will not happen this year. We have a hearing today with Secretary Chertoff on Homeland Security issues that affect your industry. I’m here to tell you that we all applaud your work on the Registered Traveler Program and your efforts to bring about a Registered Travel Interoperability Consortium.
The Senate has passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which included $180 million for the procurement of explosive detection and trace systems – $50 million will be used to procure and deploy the next generation of explosive detection systems. That falls short of the billions of dollars it is estimated we need to complete the job nationwide, but it does reflect the commitment that the Senate has to provide this new enhanced and efficient portion of aviation security.
It is a difficult time for us right now, because as you know we are going to face the problem in the Senate of confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice, or perhaps more than one in the balance of the year. And, that is going to take considerable time. So, we’re trying to work out as many of these items as we can on a consensus basis. And, I call your attention to the fact that our Commerce Committee is in fact a bipartisan Committee. Senator Inouye and I co-chair that Committee and we don’t proceed on anything without the approval of the other. We’re working to try to get our bills to the floor in a manner that will not take a lot of time on the floor, that will not be partisan, to really try to get around things like the confirmation process for the justice and judges and see if we can deal with the issues that affect your industry on a bipartisan basis. I urge you to keep that in mind as you approach our Committee during this Congress and as long as Senator Inouye and I are co-chairmen.
It’s nice to be here with you.