Making Washington airports self-sustaining

Making Washington airports self-sustaining
SB 5011, which would create a community aviation revitalization board to oversee a revolving loan account, has cleared the Senate and may soon get a House vote. Photo: freepik.com

The state legislature two years ago approved an aviation loan program to improve community airport infrastructure, and now, legislators are taking a second run at setting up a board to oversee the loans.

Bipartisan-backed SB 5011 sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-15) would create a Community Aviation Revitalization Board along with a revolving loan account to maintain funds appropriated through the capital budget. The bill cleared the Senate Feb. 14 with a unanimous vote and was voted out of the House Transportation Committee on March 2.

For proponents testifying at a Feb. 29 public hearing, the bill is an important step toward the goal of financially self-sustaining community airports.

Washington State Aviation Alliance member and former Port of Shelton executive director John Dobson told the committee that this “is the first and only cost-effective opportunity afforded small airports to make this happen. Every airport in the state should and could be self-sustaining – at least be able to cover its own operating expenses. The only way that will ever happen is if airport sponsors begin to invest in assets that generate cashflow.”

Currently, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) offers the Airport Aid Grant Program available to 136 public airports in the state. However, the program and other federal funding is limited to existing infrastructure.  A 2013 WSDOT study concluded that 134 of those airports will require $3.6 billion over the next 20 years.

“This bill provides the opportunity to develop a stronger airport system, increases economic development and decreases the dependency on grant funds,” WSDOT Aviation Director David Fleckenstein told the committee.

Along with passing HB 1656, the legislature appropriated $5 million in the 2018 capital budget to fund it. They later reappropriated the money in the 2019 capital budget when HB 1656 was vetoed by Governor Jay Inslee, which would have made the program permanent; lawmakers also extended the loan program to 2021.

HB 1456 sponsored by Rep. Tom Dent (R-13) last year offered a revised proposal for a loan board, but it failed to clear the chamber.

Under SB 5011, the board would consist of five members chosen by the WSDOT director to represent ports, local governments, airports and pilots. It would also include a member from the Public Works Board and a non-legislator from the Community Economic Revitalization Board.

Washington Public Ports Association lobbyist Chris Herman told the committee that “we are on the cusp of a transformation in air mobility,” citing Eviation’s new all-electric airliner, “Alice”, which will conduct test flights out of Moses Lake this year.

“Without the adequate infrastructure to be able to support this increased mobility, we are worried that we’re going to be missing out in the future,” Herman said. “This is a small but meaningful program that does help to provide airports some self-sustainability and begin to move in that direction.”

SB 5011 has been referred to the Rules Committee for review.

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