Spokane International Airport is using only about a third of its passenger capacity and just 1 percent of its cargo capacity, says a draft technical report by the Washington state Department of Transportation.
The report also says that Spokane County is approaching full utilization of its current aircraft storage capacity, with less than 11 percent of reserve available, but has almost 20 percent of the states undeveloped land capacity next to airports.
The recent release of the 236-page document concludes the first phase of a long-term air transportation study initiated by the Legislature last year to determine whether airports across the state meet air transportation needs.
SIA Director Neal Sealock contends, though, that the report isnt accurate. He says that its use of the word capacity differs from page to page, creating an inaccurate picture and apples-to-oranges comparisons, and he predicts that the capacity-percentage numbers in it will change before a final version of it is released.
That big caveat aside, he says he views the figures positively in that, I think it does point to our position that we do clearly have capacity in cargo and air passengers. Were well-positioned to take advantage of that, in a reliever status or some other way. Airport officials here have said in the past that theyd like to see SIA become a routinely used cargo reliever for the increasingly jammed airports on the West Side.
We have no control over what the passenger air carriers try to do, in terms of increasing operations here, Sealock says. He adds, however, Our goal is to make it as attractive as possible for them. SIA has informed the airlines, for example, that it wont be raising the fees it charges them in 2007.
The future of airports is making themselves attractive enough for a challenged industry, Sealock says.
Rich Hadley, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, says he hasnt seen the long-term air transportation study. He says his impression, though, is that the air-travel industry has been rebounding following a downturn after 9/11, and he says he shares Sealocks view that the capacity figures suggest SIA is in good shape to accommodate added traveler, cargo, and development demand as it occurs.
It means we have a big, big physical plant with lots of potential, which is much better than the opposite, he says.
In a nutshell, the draft air transportation study found that all of the evaluated airports across the state have adequate passenger and cargo capacity except for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Boeing Field/King County International Airport, and the Tri-Cities Airport.
Sea-Tac and Tri-Cities, both at 68 percent passenger capacity, exceed the 60 percent threshold identified by the Federal Aviation Administration to initiate planning for new facilities. In fact, both airports have nearly reached the 70 percent capacity at which the FAA recommends additional capacity should be in place. The report also found that the Bellingham airport is showing signs of passenger capacity constraints.
In cargo, Boeing Field-King County International Airport and Sea-Tac were the only airports in the state found in the report not to have ample capacity. The report says, though, that given the distribution of population in the Puget Sound area and economic influences driving cargo at those airports, it may be difficult to relocate future cargo activity to other airports in the state that have available capacity.
The second phase of the air transportation study now is under way and will include 25-year activity forecasting and market analysis. Its scheduled to be completed next July, and any needed revisions to the first-phase report also will be made at that time, a state DOT spokeswoman says.
The third and final phase of the study will include the appointment of a 10-member airport planning council that will identify priority areas in the state for aviation development and investment, and will make recommendations to the governor. The legislative deadline for completion of that phase is July 2009.
In its Spokane Region numbers, the first-phase report says SIA enplaned 746 passengers an hour at its peak last year, which it put at 34 percent of the airports capacity of 2,205 passengers an hour. It says the airport enplaned 55,347 tons of cargo last year, or 1 percent of an estimated total capacity of 4.28 million tons.
For report purposes, it identified all of Spokane Countyand five airports within the countyas the Spokane Region. Along with SIA, the listed airports were Felts Field, Mead Flying Service, Deer Park Municipal, and Cross Winds, an airfield northeast of Deer Park.
The report listed SIA and Deer Park Municipal as having 1,189 and 1,100 acres, respectively, of adjacent undeveloped land, which was more than all but a few of the other evaluated airports in the state.
The Spokane Region was one of four geographic areas that are receiving more detailed analysis in the study than the rest of the state because theyre population, employment, and economic centers. The others were the Puget Sound Region, Southwest Washington Region, and Tri-Cities Region.
Contact Kim Crompton at (509) 344-1263 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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