In the wake of controversy caused when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement moved flights from Boeing Field in Seattle to the Yakima Air Terminal in May, Yakima city leaders said the city has no plans to renegotiate its lease with its fixed-base operator.
A fixed-base operator provides fuel, aircraft maintenance and other on-the-ground assistance at an airport.
After King County Executive Dow Constantine signed an executive order in April, saying the county would not support ICE operations, Boeing Field’s three fixed-base operators decided not to serve the ICE-chartered flights. ICE then shifted its operations to Yakima’s airport, where more than 600 undocumented individuals arrived from May 7 to early July.
Yakima’s airport is owned by the city. It has one fixed-base operator: McCormick Air.
The Yakima City Council voted 4-3 against directing city staff to draft an order similar to King County’s at a July 16 council meeting. Yakima City Manager Cliff Moore expressed concerns that doing so could violate the terms of grants worth $19 million through the Federal Aviation Administration for airport improvements. Moore also said that turning away ICE-chartered flights in Yakima might possibly result in the city needing to repay those funds.
In a follow-up interview, Moore said the city has no plans to renegotiate its lease with McCormick Air, which runs through 2044. Moore, city spokesman Randy Beehler, and Robert Peterson, the airport’s director, collectively provided information to the Yakima Herald-Republic.
“ICE detainee flights do not violate any city law or ordinance,” Moore said. “The use of the Yakima airport, which is an open public use airport, for ICE detainee flight operations is permitted under the current lease agreement with the (fixed base operator) and the city’s federal grant assurances agreement.”
The airport recently received its annual FAA inspection audit, which includes inspection of the fueling facilities, and received “a perfect inspection,” Moore said.
He added that McCormick Air continues to provide superior customer service — including providing after-hours service for aircraft and personnel. The fixed-base operator facilities have always been clean, organized, and ready for passengers during random inspections conducted by the airport administration office. The airport administrators have never received a complaint about McCormick Air from passengers who use the building or other facilities, he said.
City staff said McCormick Air has consistently passed daily airfield safety inspections, quarterly fuel facility inspections, annual aircraft storage hangar inspections, random security inspections to ensure all staff are properly identified by required badges, random audits related to security measures, and the random inspections of the main facilities.
“There have been no human health or safety concerns observed during these random inspections,” Moore said.
Also at the July 16 meeting, the City Council authorized city leadership to seek approximately $1.3 million of additional federal grant funding through the airport improvement program.
Peterson noted that the city, if selected, would use the funds to replace a 2005 aircraft rescue and firefighting apparatus and for design and engineering costs associated with the replacement of a runway lighting system.
About 90 percent of the total costs would be covered by the FAA and the remaining 10 percent would be paid by the airport’s passenger facility charges, Peterson noted.