Cantwell Calls For Surge of Federal Investment in Sustainable Aircraft Technology Poised to Make Flying Cleaner, Quieter and Cheaper

March 29, 2023

Cantwell: “We Must Seize on the Opportunity with this FAA Reauthorization to Strengthen America’s Competitiveness in Aerospace”


“We should triple funding” for FAA’s CLEEN program, says Cantwell




Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, led a hearing focused on innovative and sustainable aviation technologies and called for increased federal funding in the next FAA reauthorization legislation for developing next generation commercial airplanes that cut carbon emissions, reduce noise and lower fuel costs. 

“This is about winning a competitive race for the future,” said Sen. Cantwell. “Achieving net-zero aviation emissions by 2050, a target shared by industry and the Federal government, will require shifts in commercial aircraft development and different fuel sources.”

Sen. Cantwell used the hearing to explain that in order to gear up for the next generation of sustainable aviation, Congress needs to enhance research partnerships between the FAA and NASA to share expertise on new aviation technologies, such as, zero-emission propulsion systems and composite materials for lighter weight airplanes.

Congress designed the FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) Program to accelerate the development of new aircraft and engine technologies to reduce noise, emissions and fuel burn by partnering with the aviation industry.

"The FAA Continuous Low Energy, Emissions and Noise (CLEEN) program will save 36 billion gallons of fuel by 2050, with savings [of] about $90 billion dollars for airlines," said Sen. Cantwell. "These emission cuts are equal to removing 3 million cars from the road between 2020 and 2050." 

"We should triple funding, in my opinion, for CLEEN for its next phase of focusing on zero-emission aircraft innovation," she added.

Sen. Cantwell also spearheaded a new NASA program which was included in last year’s CHIPS & Science Act that requires NASA to continue research into advanced composite materials manufacturing to build lightweight airplane structures. At the hearing, Sen. Cantwell urged Robert Pearce, Associate Administrator of the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, to accelerate progress in the manufacturing of cutting-edge composite materials so aircrafts can incorporate them at a faster rate.  

[F]or people who may not know, composites are lighter weight materials that drive down on the fuel costs,” she said. “That's clear.”

In an exchange with Arjan Hegeman of GE Aerospace about the value of new engine technology being introduced to the market, Sen. Cantwell asked, “what do you think is the engineering efficiency that you're going to get out of the next engine?”

Hegeman responded, “The fuel efficiency that we're going after is more than 20%, which is significantly more than what you traditionally get in a generational update.”

The aviation industry is already investing and making strides in the next generation of sustainable aircraft. Sen. Cantwell announced that “this year NASA will conduct the first flight of its new low-boom supersonic aircraft.”

In March, Universal Hydrogen conducted a successful test flight in Moses Lake, Washington, of an 84-foot Dash 8 with engines powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the largest aircraft ever to fly principally on hydrogen power. Universal Hydrogen co-founder Jon Gordon testified at today’s hearing, saying, “within a decade you will see our hydrogen-powered aircraft flying in nearly every region of the globe.”

The senators also heard from Dr. Val Miftakhov, Founder and CEO of ZeroAvia, which has a location at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. In January, ZeroAvia conducted a successful test flight of a 19-seat Dornier 228 in the United Kingdom, the world’s largest retrofitted hydrogen-electric fuel cell aircraft to fly at the time. “This is not just an opportunity to make aviation cleaner,” said Miftakhov, “it's also opportunity to make a lot of affordable flying available to more and more people.”

Sen. Cantwell has been a strong advocate for sustainable aviation and has worked on several legislative initiatives, including securing $297 million for the Sustainable Aviation Fuel and Low-Emissions Aviation Technology Grant Program, now known as the Fueling Aviation’s Sustainable Transition (FAST) program, which was enacted in the Inflation Reduction Act. She also partnered with her Senate colleagues to introduce the Sustainable Skies Act in 2019, a version of which was also incorporated in the Inflation Reduction Act to provide a tax credit to increase the supply of sustainable aviation fuel. As Senate Commerce Committee Chair, Cantwell will lead Congressional efforts this year to reauthorize the FAA and spur the adoption of more environmentally friendly and technologically advanced aviation technologies.