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Waimea-Kohala Airport May Benefit from FAA Reauthorization Act

April 19, 2016, 8:22 AM HST
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Waimea-Kohala Airport. State of Hawai'i Airport System photo.

Waimea-Kohala Airport. State of Hawai’i Airport System photo.

Small airports in Hawai’i may benefit from legislation aimed at improving airport safety and infrastructure around the country while keeping airline service intact in smaller, underserved areas.

The United States Senate passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016, officially known as H.R. 636, on Tuesday. Both of Hawai’i’s United States Senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, voted to pass the bill, which pushed through on a 95-3 vote.

In H.R. 636, about $5 million in additional funding is earmarked for the Essential Air Service Program, which allows for air transportation in small communities that may normally not be served. Both the Waimea-Kohala Airport and the Kalaupapa Airport on Moloka’i qualify for EAS funding.

“As an island state, air travel is critical to our economy and our daily lives,” Senator Schatz said.  “This comprehensive bill approves key funding that will improve our airports and maintain air travel service to and from Kalaupapa and Kamuela.  We were also able to include key provisions that will improve child safety on airplanes, strengthen aviation forecasting to reduce flight delays, and help prevent the spread of communicable diseases through travel.”

Also included in H.R. 636 is $400 million in added funding for the Airport Improvement Program, which allows for improvements in critical infrastructure. Hawai’i received $29 million in AIP funding last year.

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Senators also approved the Airplane KITS Act, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Schatz, a Democrat, and a pair of Republican Senators. The Act would call on the Federal Aviation Administration to review and modernize emergency medical kits that are found on airplanes, with an emphasis on medicine and equipment to treat children in need of medical attention.

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Additionally, Democratic Sen. Hirono and Republican Sen. Deb Fischer’s bipartisan measure was also approved, which would allow veterans who work for the FAA and Transportation Security Administration closer to other veterans who work in other federal agencies. Veterans with a disability rating of 30 percent or higher would receive additional sick leave in their first year of employment.

Ten percent of Hawai’i’s TSA workforce and 37 percent of FAA workers in the state are veterans. About 12,000 federal employees in Hawai’i are veterans who have a disability rating above 30 percent.

“The FAA reauthorization is a bipartisan compromise that provides funding stability to an agency that is critical to our nation, and especially important for those of us in Hawai’i who rely on air travel,” Senator Hirono said. “This legislation increases passenger protections, bolsters safety measures in planes and airports, and includes my proposal to remove barriers that currently force veterans who work for the FAA and TSA to take unpaid leave to seek critical medical care. I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to continue our work and see this measure through before July 15, when the FAA will face a potential shutdown.”

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