Senate creates commission to review major airport location options

A list of the top six location finalists would be completed by January.

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — Creation or expansion of an airport in Washington state to relieve the stress of growing demand at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport would be the focus of the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission created by legislation passed in the Senate March 11.

Sea-Tac is the ninth busiest airport in the United States and 19th in air cargo volume in North America, with traffic forecast to continue growing, according to a legislative staff report.

In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funded the Puget Sound Regional Council to look at aviation in the area and help with future planning. The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission would look at potential facility sites and create a short list of six sites by January 2020.

Senator Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, spoke in support of the bill, noting that Moses Lake has an underused airport that could be a good fit.

“We have the longest landing strip this side of the Mississippi,” Warnick said in reference to Grant County International Airport.

The bill passed the Senate in a bipartisan 45- 1 vote, with Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, voting in opposition.

The broad language in the bill would allow for Paine Field Airport in Snohomish County to be considered for expansion, which is something Liias opposes. Paine Field is already expanding to include passenger travel, and Liias said he would not support additional expansion at this point.

Liias said he supports expansion to meet Washington’s needs at airfields, such as in Moses Lake, which could handle the increased traffic. The House’s companion bill, HB 1683, received bipartisan support in committee hearings.

Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, is the prime sponsor and has Sea-Tac International Airport in her district. Co-sponsor — and the only professional pilot in the Legislature — Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, packaged bills aimed at improving aviation safety, funding and innovation.

In the House Transportation Committee hearing, Steve Edmiston, a member of the state Department of Commerce aviation impact study committee, testified in support of the bill.

“I call this a ‘what’s-not-to-like’ bill because of the statewide economic impacts that this bill can create,” Edmiston said. Economic impacts are “no longer reserved for an isolated piece of geography,” he said. “That has been our model at Sea-Tac since 1947.”

The commission would include members from the Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, the private sector, metropolitan planning organization and from various ports. There would be 13 voting and two nonvoting members. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

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