Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

Spokane airport much more than a place to catch a plane

As passenger traffic at Spokane International Airport is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels this holiday season, the future is looking bright for the facility for many reasons. 

The airport isn’t just a place to catch a plane. It provides a significant economic catalyst, helping to create good-paying jobs in the community.

That doesn’t occur just because the airport happens to be there.

Airport CEO Larry Krauter believes it takes vision, planning, collaboration, and bold action to advance a mission to build the airport and surrounding area into a world-class transportation, logistics, and advanced-manufacturing center with an emphasis on aerospace production—a mission that hasn’t been forgotten during the pandemic.

The decision in 2017 by the Spokane Airports board, the city of Spokane, and Spokane County to form a public development authority, now known as S3R3 Solutions, has helped accelerate that vision.

Most recently, the PDA built a 30,750-square-foot building on Pilot Drive, now occupied by Amazon Air.

Currently under construction within the 9,250-acre PDA district surrounding the airport is a transload facility that will transfer cargo between trucks and rail, an operation that Krauter says is especially critical close to air cargo facilities.

Aside from the PDA, the airport has announced a third full-service fixed-base operator, Aero Center Spokane, will be operational within the next 18 months to serve both private and business aircraft.

The airport also is boasting recent additions of nonstop flights to new markets, including Orange County, California. It also has introduced new airlines to the Spokane market, such as aha!, an Expressjet affiliate.

One important aspect of such new business is that, in addition to providing more destinations for Spokane residents, the airport also is bringing people into the Spokane region for leisure and business activities.

In that sense, the airport is the front door to the Spokane region, where initial perceptions and assessments of the community will be formed by people coming from outside the region, making it all the more important that we present a well-functioning airport.

In addition to the freshly completed realignment of inbound Airport Drive, the airport has quite a list of projects planned and in the works.

One ongoing project that will continue through 2022 and 2023 involves improvements to the car rental facilities, which provide an important source of revenue for the airport operations that are conducted without reliance on taxpayer funding.

Much more terminal construction is expected in the next two to three years as the airport proceeds with its previously announced major Terminal Renovation and Expansion (TREX) project. In the coming year, the airport plans to move forward with a three-gate expansion of the C Terminal.

Right behind that, Krauter says, the airport aims to seek funding through the recently passed federal infrastructure bill to construct the critical central entrance hall portion of the TREX project, which will include a consolidated screening checkpoint and a consolidated baggage claim area.

There’s a lot to applaud and to look forward to at the airport, which is indeed more than just a place to catch a plane.