YAKIMA, Wash. — A longer runway, new terminal building and additional general aviation facilities are among the improvements recommended in a new master plan for the Yakima Air Terminal.
With the last master plan dating back to 1996 — and not updated in nearly a decade — the new document is long overdue, airport authorities say. Now under review for approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, the plan makes recommendations and projections for the airport though 2030.
“It’s a working document that will (help) enhance the airport in the future,” said Rob Peterson, interim airport manager.
It’s also an essential document used by the FAA to determine funding priorities; the federal agency will not fund a project that is not outlined in the master plan. The majority of the $500,000 cost for the plan was paid for with an FAA grant.
The airport worked with URS Corp. in Seattle and Yakima engineering firm Huibregtse, Louman Associates Inc. to develop the plan. The airport also gathered feedback from stakeholders, including private pilots and community members.
The new plan is also the first since the city of Yakima took sole ownership of the airport earlier this year.
Passenger growth is projected to more than double to nearly 123,000 by 2030, up from about 57,400 in 2012. The estimate, however, is based on population growth and assumes success in securing new service over time.
Yakima City Manager Tony O’Rourke believes the projections are reasonable given current efforts to expand air service, an effort he believes will be successful. Improved air service, he said, will not only contribute to the growth, but help improve the airport’s image.
More general aviation or aviation-related businesses are needed, but for most Yakima Valley residents, additional air service — which is used by more people — is a more visible indicator of a successful airport, O’Rourke said.
“For the public to discern any improvement, they need better air service,” he said.
In addition, more passengers provide more income that could be used for necessary airport improvement projects, he said, referring to the facility charge tacked on to each ticket.
General aviation, which includes activity from private and hobby pilots, and aviation-related business activity are also expected to increase.
According to the master plan, all operations at the airport — flight activity from commercial airlines, air cargo, private pilots and the military — are projected to increase 23 percent by 2030.
“The general aviation community in YKM is healthy and active and these forecasts show a continued growth over the 20-year period,” the master plan said in a chapter on aviation demand. “While this growth is not ‘spectacular’ it is assumed the business aviation sector will remain active and that business-related operations will increase in the future.”
The master plan recommends that the airport set aside property to build facilities such as hangars, fueling areas and pilot lounge areas to ensure continued growth.
Some of that additional land, the plan states, could come from purchasing the former Noland Decoto property and land from the south side of the airport, where general aviation activity has increased over the years.
Ola Vestad, a private pilot and manager at Yakima Airpark, a group of privately-owned hangars on the south side of the airport, noted that much of the growth will have to come from private investment.
The previous master plan recommended an extension of the main runway from 7,604 feet to 10,000 feet to accommodate new aircraft and attract new tenants and airlines.
The current master plan, however, found that 10,000 feet was excessive given the needs of most aircraft and would have required the airport to secure additional property. Therefore, the new plan recommends extending the main runway to 8,847 feet, which would accommodate new opportunities but not require purchasing additional property.
The master plan also recommends continued use of a shorter cross-runway. That runway, which is 3,835 feet, is not eligible for federal funding for improvements as the FAA ruled that the main runway was suitable for nearly all aircraft under all weather conditions.
With no federal funding, the option to close the runway for good was considered. However, Peterson said the runway provides a much needed alternative for general aviation aircraft, such as the light sport planes built by CubCrafters.
The runway has also been used when the main runway was unavailable; for example, when it was repaved a few years ago.
Ultimately, the master plan recommends not closing the runway, but using it until improvements are needed. Meanwhile, the airport would explore other funding options, such as grants from the state Department of Transportation, to pay for future improvements.
Peterson said there are also other options, such as converting it into a grass runway, a popular offering for those in general aviation.
The airport terminal, which was built in 1950, hasn’t seen a major renovation in more than a decade.
In addition, the 30,838-square-foot terminal building doesn’t have enough space to accommodate projected passenger growth or additional air service. As a result, the master plan recommends building a new terminal building at the site of the current building. However, the airport would still utilize existing areas, such as the passenger parking lot and the apron where aircraft are parked. The master plan recommends starting the planning work on the project, such as the design process, around 2018 or 2019 and a multi-phase construction start around 2020.
A multi-phase timeline to design and build a new terminal is necessary to allow the airport plenty of time to secure funding, Peterson said.
The master plan also recommends other improvements at the terminal to provide more convenience to travelers, such as food service, free wireless Internet access and a larger parking area.
Peterson said he hopes the FAA can approve the plan by the end of this summer so it could be implemented this fall.
The cost of the improvements recommended in the master plan, including extending the main runway and building a new terminal building, is estimated at $44 million.
The majority of that sum — $39.4 million — is expected to come from federal funds from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, which provides funding for improvement projects with a match by the airport.
The rest, about $4.6 million, would be local funding from, for example, facility fees charged to airline tickets.
However, the master plan does note this: “It needs to be determined if the city can fund both capital improvement projects and annual airport operations and maintenance.”
It is an important question given the airport’s past financial problems, which led the city to take sole ownership earlier this year. That ended a three-decade joint operating agreement with Yakima County under which an independent board managed the facility.
The master plan does not address how the airport can best fund its day-to-day operations, but O’Rourke said the city has no plans to pursue a port district, a taxing authority used by most airports statewide.
“We got too much to prove to the public on so many fronts before we ask them for a taxing authority,” he said.
For now, revenue for the airport’s $1.07 million budget will continue to be generated from airport leases and passenger, parking and general aviation fees, though O’Rourke said some city general funds might be available to put some momentum behind specific projects.
Peterson said he thinks implementing the recommendations in the master plan will be more efficient under the city’s ownership.
Under the old ownership structure, he said, he would have to go to several parties — the airport board and city of Yakima and Yakima County.
These days, Peterson only has to answer to the Yakima City Council and O’Rourke.
The feedback from city officials on the new master plan, so far, has been positive, he said.
“It seems we’re on the same page, going in the right direction,” he said.
• Mai Hoang can be reached at 509-759-7851 or at email@example.com.