Search for new WA airport location to start over

May 16, 2023, 2:42 PM | Updated: 3:20 pm


Washington state Senators voted successfully to replace the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC), the state-created group charged with researching and recommending a location for a new municipal airport. (Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

(Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that will replace the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC), the state-created group charged with researching and recommending a location for a new municipal airport.

In its place would be a workgroup, which would continue to analyze Washington state’s future aviation needs and analyze possible solutions.

The bill, Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1791, passed the Legislature in April.

Commission preparing for fallout if new WA airport location isn’t found

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is predicted to reach capacity in 2032. According to the commission’s Chair, Warren Hendrickson, that could lead to flight restrictions, higher airfare costs, and more limited package shipping capabilities, among other concerns.

“Will Sea-Tac Airport reach capacity before there is a solution? Based on the information we have, absolutely that will be the case,” Hendrickson said. While Hendrickson is the Chair of the soon-to-be-defunct commission, he was a non-voting member.

A previous CACC report also said Paine Field has “limited expansion potential.”

The commission was created in 2019 and was immediately tasked with finding a solution to the pending air travel problem. Out of an original list of 14 options, three “greenfield” sites were ultimately earmarked as finalists. Two of the sites were in Pierce County, and another in Thurston County.

However, all three faced significant challenges — chief among them being conflicted airspace with Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The airport’s proposed size — 3,100 acres and two runways — also presented challenges.

“The airport will not fit in an urban area. It has to be in a rural area, and all [three] of the sites have little road access,” Rob Hodgman, the former WSDOT senior aviation planner and commission member, told KIRO Newsradio.

All three also faced intense pushback from the local communities, even in areas not currently under consideration.

“There is absolutely zero support on the local level from any city county or port government,” Hendrickson said.

The city of Yakima has previously come forward and asked to be considered, but this presents additional transportation issues. Hendrickson claimed the state would have to “determine how we are going to move 50,000 people per day to Yakima.”

“From a logistical standpoint, the eastern side of Washington is probably not going to work,” American Airlines Airport Affairs Manager Loren Carr said at a recent CACC meeting.

Neither will King County. Like the CACC, the bill stated the new workgroup would not be permitted to study any sites in counties with a population of over two million people.

According to House Bill 1791, the workgroup replacing the commission would not be required to submit any sites for a final recommendation. The bill stated an initial progress report would be due Jan. 1, 2024, with annual reports thereafter. According to Hendrickson, that will likely be too late to keep Sea-Tac Airport from maxing out.

The commission is still tasked with issuing a final recommendation to the Legislature by June 15. However, Governor Inslee has said that the “report should reflect the findings of the Commission that they do not have a single site recommendation at this time.”

Inslee wrote to the Legislature emphasizing the importance of first considering expanding additional airport capacity, with the exception of Sea-Tac, before a newly built airport is considered.

MyNorthwest News


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Search for new WA airport location to start over