A recent survey conducted for the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) revealed strong support among Puget Sound region residents for airport expansion or construction and little enthusiasm for inaction.
Created in 2019, the CACC is tasked with making recommendations to the state legislature by 2023 on new or expanded airport locations to address an anticipated air cargo capacity shortage. Sea-Tac is expected to reach full capacity by 2034. The commission has explored options ranging from Paine Field in Everett to possibly relocating Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) to make room for a new airport.
SDOT Aviation Director and CACC Chair David Fleckenstein said at the commission’s Aug. 24 meeting that they are “going to make recommendations based on partly the needs for Washington state, but also what people feel is important moving forward.”
CACC’s survey was sent out to 33,000 residents in eight counties in the Puget Sound region including King, Kitsap, Snohomish, Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Skagit, and Pierce. Eight percent, or 2,600 residents, responded in proportion to the counties’ respective populations. The responses showed a preference for expanding or improving existing airports, with sixty percent or more of the residents in each county offering “support or strong support.” In second-ranked options receiving support were building a new airport and expanding an existing location.
The least popular option was to do nothing, which garnered less than 10 percent support in each of the eight counties.
“People want to be able to fly in a way that is predictable and affordable and relatively easy,” PRR West Coast Environment Sector Lead Lyndsey Burgess told the commission at its Aug. 24 meeting. “We definitely see interest in…expanding capacity at existing airports.”
The survey also revealed that few respondents were aware of the cargo shortage, and those that were tended to be higher-income earners; high-income earners also placed a stronger emphasis on having an efficient airport system in the state. Respondents overall were divided over whether the airport expansion/construction should prioritize environmental effects of the project or its economic benefits.
“Most people think we should meet demand,” Burgess said. “But they also want to minimize environmental impacts.”
While the survey didn’t ask respondents for a preferred airport site, Burgess cited a prior Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) study, saying: “people are expressing interest in existing airports and having options that are dispersed in areas that are not just SeaTac.”
Although business closures and travel restrictions in response to COVID-19 have led to decreased use of transit, trains, and ferries, the PSRC anticipates that there won’t be a long-term impact on air travel: “There have been dips in aviation growth over the past 40 years, particularly in line with recessions, but long-term aviation growth has remained consistent. We expect the long-term forecasts outlined in this open house to remain representative of the long-term demand of the region.”
The commission is now planning an online public open house that will be live Sept. 13-26 and will allow residents to provide further feedback. The commission’s recommendations are due to the legislature by February 2023.