Weekly Column

Aug 01 2022

Improving Air Travel

By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

**There is no audio of this week’s column**

If you or a loved one has traveled recently, you’ve likely experienced flight delays or cancelations.

A combination of factors has disrupted our air travel system. According to the latest federal data, an astounding 88,161 flights were canceled from January to May this year. But it’s not just the inconvenience of cancellations or delays that are concerning. One factor contributing to the travel difficulties is the lack of available pilots, which has forced many airlines to reduce the volume of flights they can offer.

The reduction in flights hurts Nebraska airports that rely on the Essential Air Service, a national program designed to help rural communities stay connected. Alliance, Chadron, Grand Island, Kearney, McCook, North Platte, and Scottsbluff all have local airports that utilize this important program.

That’s why this week I joined five of my colleagues in introducing the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act.  The legislation would raise the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67, while still ensuring all pilots are held to the same rigorous safety and medical standards. It is estimated that roughly 5,000 fully qualified pilots will be forced to retire within the next two years despite their desire and ability to continue flying. Passing this bill would be an important step towards lowering the number of service reductions and flight cancellations.

Our airports play an important role in the national infrastructure network. In addition to providing communities with better access to transportation, they enable Nebraskans to bring the state’s world-class products to markets. 

This year, we secured a series of airport infrastructure grants for Nebraska’s airports, including: $1.75 million for Lincoln Airport, $1.0 million for Grand Island Central Regional Airport, $1.0 million for Kearney Regional Airport, $1.0 million for North Platte Regional Airport, $7.27 million for Omaha Eppley Airfield, $1.0 million for Western Nebraska Regional Airport. These funds are used for everything from facility upgrades and critical maintenance projects to flood mitigation. 

I also recently announced two grants for Nebraska airports. Omaha Eppley Airport will receive an additional $20 million toward a terminal access road project and the Lincoln Airport will receive $850,000 for their terminal modernization initiative.

Taken together, these infrastructure projects will directly help to enhance Nebraskans’ travel experiences and improve our state’s connection to the rest of the country. All of the grants aiding these projects were made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law, which I supported and which was signed into law in November of 2021.

Some airports have unique qualities that allow them to serve more than just commercial air travel. The Lincoln Airport’s long runway, for example, was designed and built to support key Department of Defense missions. Today, the Nebraska National Guard’s 155th Air Refueling Wing and the U.S. Air Force’s 55th Wing continue to operate from the Lincoln Airport and rely on its long runway for missions vital to national security.

The Lincoln runway will need renovations over the next few years to maintain service. I have worked closely with senior leadership at the Department of Defense, STRATCOM, and other stakeholders to develop a plan to assist with these renovations. I am pleased that we were recently able to secure a commitment from the National Guard Bureau to cover a portion of the cost of this vital project. The Federal Aviation Administration will provide the majority of financial assistance for the renovations.

Next to national defense, there is no greater priority for the federal government than maintaining and modernizing the nation’s infrastructure. I will continue to advocate on behalf of Nebraska communities and the infrastructure we rely on every single day.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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