Spokane Journal of Business

Small Spokane-area airports aim high on development

Officials note rise in traffic, increased demand for hangar space

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Deer Park Airport, pictured above, reported a 50 percent increase in business travel last year, one of several positive indicators for the rural airport.

Recent improvements and increased activity at two small Spokane-area airports—Deer Park Airport and Felts Field—have both of them planning for future development, officials say.

“We’re very proud of recent acquisitions at the airport and the speed at which it is growing,” says Darold Schultz, airport manager for Deer Park Airport. “I think that growth will only continue, as the economy strengthens and transportation access to this area continues to improve.”

Schultz, who has been the Deer Park airport’s manager for three years, says the airport has seen increases in both revenues and business-related travel during the past year, as well as added interest from investors wanting to build on its undeveloped land. 

He says Deer Park Airport currently includes over 1,200 acres of space, about 800 acres of which remains undeveloped.

“We have over 20 acres on the northwest side that’s ready for construction, as well as space to the east and northeast that could be used for large-scale development,” he says. 

Schultz says the airport will soon need that space to meet growing demand for hangars to house both large and small aircraft, as well as taxiways and tie-off areas.

“Our small aircraft hangars have been at capacity for the last four years so it’d be nice to see more of those built,” he says. “We also hope to build at least four larger hangars and supporting taxiways, to meet the demand for larger aircraft.”

Meanwhile, Felts Field, the general-aviation airport on the eastern edge of Spokane, also has seen increases in activity and demand for hangar space, says Todd Woodard, director of marketing and public affairs for Spokane Airports.

“The airport has seen an increased need for additional hangar space, aircraft parking (small jets and helicopters), and vehicle parking,” he says. “Those needs will be addressed in the new Felts Field Master Plan, which is being developed now, and should be complete and ready for implementation by the end of 2019.”

Woodard says there are seven private operators at Felts Field who provide the airport with fuel, services, and pilot training, including Western Aviation, Northwest Flight School, Moody Aviation, Spokane Turbine Center, Parkwater Aviation, Inland Helicopter, and Rocket Engineering.

He says data from those businesses show that through November 2017, total operations at Felts—arrivals and departures—increased by just over 12 percent to 57,458 compared to 51,256 during the year-earlier period.

Additional data show last year Felts Field also saw an 82 percent increase in the total amount of cargo transported.

“That data suggests an increase in aviation activity, which equates to the increases we’re seeing in demand for infrastructure,” he says. “So, the timing of the update to the master plan couldn’t be better.”


Deer Park

In terms of growth, Schultz says he believes most of the recent interest in Deer Park airport is due to its location, three miles northeast of Deer Park’s central business district and just northeast of its light industrial park.

“We’re bordered by two major highways to the east (U.S. 2) and west (U.S. 395),” he says. “And our proximity to the business park helps generate interest from companies looking to relocate or enhance their business relationships here.”

Schultz says the airport currently is the base facility for more than 125 aircraft, including more than 110 single-engine aircraft, two Beechcraft King Air twin turboprops, three other twin-engine aircraft, one midsized jet, two helicopters, and seven gliders.

“Each take-off or landing is considered one operation, and we complete about 36,000 operations annually,” he says. “And that figure has been increasing by about 5 to 10 percent each year for the last four years now.” 

According to Schultz, the airport’s annual revenues are generally around $500,000, with most income being generated by land leases, fuel sales, fees for the use of its closed runway, and daily parking fees for fire aircraft.

“Last year, we saw a 40 percent increase in lease revenues, along with a similar increase in fuel revenues,” he says. “I attribute those increases to the added demand for fuel during fire season, and the uptick we’ve seen in business travel.”

Schultz says business travelers tend to choose larger planes and jets, which need longer runways to operate and use more fuel than smaller aircraft.

“They prefer us because of our longer runways and lower fuel costs,” he says. “I think they also like that we have fewer safety protocols so they have easier, quicker access.”

Schultz says last year alone, the airport saw at least a 50 percent increase in operations of aircraft used for business travel.

“This month, we also started offering de-icing and lavatory services for aircraft, which also has helped to increase interest,” he says. 

Schultz says the airport currently has almost 50 buildings on site, including eight nested T-hangars, 36 individual box hangars, two mechanic shops, a flight school building, and an administrative building.

He says the airports newest hangar, a 19,600-square-foot building on the airport’s north side, was completed last June by a private investor, who soon plans to build another nearby.

“We have several other investors who are willing to build, should they find a tenant who’d be interested in leasing the space,” says Schultz.  

He says the airport completed one new taxiway last year to support the new hangar and hopes to begin work on another this summer.

The Deer Park Airport has two runways—a main runway capable of handling mid-sized jets and a smaller runway used by small aircraft and gliders. The airport also has a closed runway that Schultz says is used mainly by police agencies for driver training and as a racetrack for area car enthusiasts.

He says the airport is home to both a flight school and a soaring club, and also serves as a helicopter training site for the National Guard.

“We’re a good spot for hobby flyers and flight schools because we have long runways and lots of open space,” he says. “Training is a bit easier here because you don’t have to fly over mountainous terrain.” 

Schultz says the airport also is known for its history as an aerial firefighting base and currently houses a maintenance base for Aero Spray Inc., an Appleton, Minn.-based aerial firefighting service that has 10 Fire Boss single-engine, forward-attack tankers stationed there.

“It’s been neat to watch that aspect evolve over the years,” he says. “It started with one pilot, but now depending on the severity of fire season, we can see up to 20 planes based here daily.”

In addition to Aero Spray, Schultz says the airport also leases space to the Washington state Department of Natural Resources for their aerial firefighting operations.


Felts Field

Located in northeast Spokane, Felts Field consists of 400 acres of land, 25 acres of which Woodard says is still available for potential future development, such as hangars, taxi lanes, and taxiways.

Woodard says in the last five years the airport has completed just over $15 million in capital improvement projects at Felts Field, a majority of which went toward two large taxiway and taxi lane improvements.

“Most of the work that’s been completed at Felts in recent years involved replacing land surfaces in need of rehabilitation,” he says. “But having that work completed puts us in a good position from which to contemplate future developments there.”

Woodard says the airport currently is conducting an inventory of Felts Field in order to better forecast operations and infrastructure needs to be included in the new Master Plan. 

Additionally, he says the airport board has commissioned Bernardo|Wills Architects PC to complete a $152,500 Gateway Study that would help facilitate planning of future improvements at Felts Field.

He says the study is meant to guide improvements that include signage, kiosks, lighting, and aviation features, in a way that reflects the prominence of the history of Felts Field in the Pacific Northwest.

“Felts Field has a rich history, and so we’d like to see some of that reflected and incorporated into future improvements and designs,” he says.

Woodard says the study includes possible improvements to Felts Field’s main roadway entrance on Fancher Road from east Trent to east Rutter avenues, as well as updates to the airport’s terminal parking facility.

He says the gateway study also will consider allowing points of access for the Millwood trail, a future shared use path currently being considered by the City of Spokane, which would run south of the Spokane River from Greene Street to Felts Field.

Once completed, Woodard says the study will be incorporated into the new Felts Field Master Plan.

He says the airport also will hold a public meeting in the coming months to provide an update on the master plan, and receive comments from the community on the proposed improvements.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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