Preparing for Washington’s future airport

Preparing for Washington’s future airport
Washington House lawmakers approved SSB 5370 which creates a commission to select by 2021 a preferred location for the state’s next major airport. Photo: freepik.com

State House lawmakers on April 16 voted unanimously in favor of a Senate proposal to begin planning for Washington’s next major airport to accommodate future air cargo capacity. SSB 5370 initially passed the Senate on Mar. 11 in a 45-1 vote. The bill creates a commercial aviation coordinating commission tasked with selecting a preferred location for the airport by 2021. The bill envisions airport construction would be completed by 2040.

“We’re looking into the future,” Rep. Tom Dent (R-13) told colleagues. “We just don’t go out there like you build a house and decide to build a new airport. It’s not going to work that way.”

Perhaps hastening the effort is a 2018 report from the Joint Transportation Committee that concluded air cargo tonnage in the state will grow at a 4.4 percent annual rate through 2045. If that is the case, air cargo value will have increased from roughly $48 billion in 2015 to $173.6 billion. However, by 2034 Sea-Tac International Airport is expected to reach full capacity; the Port of Seattle has set a goal to double the tonnage handled at the airport by 2036.

Sea-Tac is the 19th busiest airport in the nation, with 90 percent of its international cargo originating in Washington.

“Air cargo is a big part of what we do,” Dent said. “We will see more air cargo as our highways become more congested and look for other ways to move that cargo so we don’t have to deal with highways. (But) you have to have everything lined up for it all to work, because if it doesn’t it’s not like you can…stop and wait this thing out a little bit. We have to keep moving.”

Under SSB 5370, the commission would be composed of 15 members, 13 of them voting positions. The nonvoting members would represent FAA and the Washington State Aviation Alliance. The voting members would represent entities that include the state Department of Commerce, the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board, a port association and would also include a governor appointee. The commission would create by January 2020 a list of six potential sites to recommend and narrow those down to two by September 2020. A single preferred location must be chosen by January 2021.

The companion bill is HB 1683 sponsored Deputy Speaker Pro Tempore Tina Orwall (D-33); it was referred to the House Rules Committee but did not clear the chamber before the legislative cutoff date.

On the House floor, Orwall told colleagues that “as you can imagine, an airport nestled in a residential area only has so much capacity, so we will continue to grow it. But at some point if you look at air space, if you look at land space, if you look at the impact on community, we realize that there’s only so much capacity.”

“It’s really important for economic growth to be able to say: ‘where is our capacity going to be’ and of course, that brings with it jobs and opportunities,” she added.

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