The State Senate passed SB 5031 by a unanimous vote on March 4; the proposal would make permanent a temporary revolving aviation loan program praised by port authorities as a way to improve economic development in rural communities.
The Community Aviation Revitalization Loan Program was first created via SSB 6090 in the 2018 capital budget, with $5 million in appropriations. Since then, that money has been invested in 11 projects throughout the state, many of which were cited during SB 5031’s Feb. 11 public hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. However, a separate bill introduced that year creating a permanent Community Aviation Revitalization Board (CARB) was vetoed by Governor Jay Inslee.
The 2019 capital budget extended the loan program through July 2021. SSB 5011 introduced last year would have also made the board permanent, but the measure failed to clear the House after passing in the Senate.
For small airports, the low-interest loans give them greater flexibility than existing Airport Aid Grants offered through the Washington State Department of Transportation, which are restricted to existing infrastructure.
Speaking prior to the March 4 Senate floor vote, Sen. David Frockt (D-46) told colleagues that “the testimony we heard in the Ways and Means committee this year was actually probably the best I’ve heard. (It) really got down to…the actual effect. This program has the potential to really help economic development in the smaller counties and the smaller cities that have these small rural airports.”
For the Port of Bremerton, a $750,000 loan through the CARB program will allow them to construct a multipurpose facility that includes restaurants, an airport hangar, and a pilot flight planning facility at a time when the port is also investing $15.7 million to build a new marina.
“Absent this CARB loan the Port of Bremerton would not have been able to go forward with this multipurpose facility this coming year,” Airport Manager Warren Hendrickson told Ways and Means members at the Feb. 11 public hearing.
Aside from economic development, Sen. Jeff Wilson (R-19) also noted that small airports can prove vital during natural disasters, such as the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. “We’re reliant on our rural airports in our district for some form of economic benefit to our communities. It protect and aids in times of emergencies. Rural airports particularly need to be viable to help us out.”
SB 5031 has not yet been referred to a House committee. Its companion bill HB 1030 is awaiting a House floor vote.