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Six drone test-site states named, Idaho not among them

The FAA has announced the six states it’s chosen to be test sites for drone technology, and Idaho’s not among them, nor is Washington. Instead, the six states are Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who sponsored legislation last year seeking the test-site designation, said he’s disappointed, but still sees a future for drone technology in Idaho. “It means we have to develop another tack,” Winder said. “I think there’s still a lot of assets in Idaho that relate to unmanned aircraft systems,” including the Idaho National Laboratory, forestry, agricultural and fish and wildlife operations and more. “There’s a real need to develop curriculum and people that understand the programming and the potential for the use of these unmanned systems.”

Winder said Idaho can still pursue designation as a “Center of Excellence” for drone technology, including both public and private efforts and university programs. “A lot of times with military bases and siting, a lot of politics play into it,” said Winder, a former Navy pilot. “We’re a pretty small state, we don’t have a lot of political clout, and we may have just lost out on that basis alone.”

Becoming one of the six test sites “would’ve generated a significant number of jobs and expansion of our curriculum in our universities and colleges,” Winder said, “so I think it would’ve been really good for the state. But I think through this Center of Excellence, we can pursue a lot of those same goals, probably without as much participation by the FAA.”

Senators weigh in on FAA tower closure plans

WASHINGTON — Powerful Congressional voices on transportation issues, including Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, admonished the Federal Aviation Administration for plans to shutter control towers nationwide as a result of federal spending cuts, including Spokane’s tower at Felts Field.

 Cantwell joined six of her colleagues on Capitol Hill to sign a letter insisting the agency look at other options to comply with mandated federal spending cuts. The signees warn the closures, which would hit 149 towers under contract with the FAA, could have air safety ramifications that have not yet been looked at closely.

 “It is deeply troubling that the agency seems intent on proceeding with the closure of key air traffic control assets absent adequate safety data and study,” the legislators wrote in a letter delivered to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Thursday.

 The Felts Field tower was scheduled to close April 7, but the FAA delayed those plans until June 15. The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing next week to press officials on the affect federal budget cuts would have on air safety. Huerta will be among those testifying.

 Cantwell was among several Commerce Committee members who signed the letter, along with Committee Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

FAA fight could create INW problems

Inland Northwest airports may have major construction projects knocked off track by a congressional fight over the Federal Aviation Administration.

A $3.3 million grant to finish the major runway reconstruction at Spokane International Airport and a nearly $1 million grant for a building at Coeur d’Alene airport are in the bill that is stalled because of disagreements between House Republicans and Senate Democrats.

The grants aren’t part of the dispute, which primarily involves subsidies to rural airports and collective bargaining rights. But until the bill passes, the money can’t be released and many FAA workers other than air traffic controllers are on furlough…

To read more of this story, go inside the blog.
  

FAA fight felt in Spokane, CdA

The fight between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over Federal Aviation Administration is being felt at Inland Northwest airports.

Spokane International Airport is worried about a $3.3 million grant to finish its runway enhancement, and getting the new instrumentation calibrated by the FAA, because the folks that do the calibrating are on furlough.

Coeur d'Alene Airport is worried about a nearly $1 million grant to build a structure for its Air Rescue and Firefighting vehicle.

The grants and funding for FAA employees are on hold because the bill is stalled, and Congress isn't due back until Sept. 7.

We'll have more on this story in Thursday's print and online editions.