Yakima Airport

Passengers are seen deplaning in the reflection of the windows at the Yakima Air Terminal in Yakima, Wash., Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

Yakima City Council members sent a letter to state transportation officials at the beginning of 2023 asking that the city be considered as a site to relieve crowding at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

If discussion this past week is any indication, Yakima officials are getting their wish.

As it nears the end of its three-year mission, the state’s Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission had a virtual meeting Thursday to review data about three finalist airport sites in Pierce and Thurston counties, and to discuss options if none of those sites are suitable.

While several CACC members and Western Washington residents participating in a public hearing praised Yakima for its willingness to be considered, opinions on the city being a realistic option for relieving the Sea-Tac congestion were mixed.

Tim O’Brien, a member of the Enumclaw Plateau Community Association, said Thursday that none of the three sites nor a previously considered one near Enumclaw were acceptable for a new airport.

“It would make sense to consider a wider variety of sites, such as Yakima,” O’Brien said.

“Yakima does seem to want this … it would take a couple hours to get over there, but if they build an infrastructure plan from Seattle, the public would be interested,” added Derek Peterson, during the public comments.

Later in the meeting, several CACC members said Yakima or any other Eastern Washington airport site is too remote to solve the problem of increasing passenger and cargo demand, most of which comes from the Puget Sound region.

“While I admire that Yakima has stepped up and said they’d be interested … from a logistical standpoint, the eastern side of Washington is not going to work in the manner that people hope,” CACC member Lorin Carr said. “Significant resources could be invested in a facility that will not get the use that was intended.”

Carr, the airport affairs manager for American Airlines, is responsible for the airline’s relationship with multiple airports on the West Coast as well as other regions of the world, according to his biography on the CACC website. He serves on the CACC as a representative of the airline industry.

Tony Bean, executive director of the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport and a nonvoting member of the CACC, added that Yakima’s location creates similar problems to that of Grant County International Airport, which was briefly considered early in the process.

“It almost dilutes the solution to the Puget Sound-centric solution that we need,” Bean said of Yakima.

Starting over

Most of Thursday’s meeting considered how – and if – the CACC would make a recommendation on “a single preferred location for a new primary commercial aviation facility,” which was its original task when the Legislature created the panel in 2019.

Amid the challenges of the COVID pandemic, the group has met numerous times in the three-plus years since it was created, gradually narrowing down the options for a new airport site as its June 15, 2023, deadline for a final recommendation approaches.

Various factors ranging from the parameters of its search criteria (King County sites were excluded by the Legislature) to airspace and expansion capacity concerns eliminated existing west side airports, including Everett’s Paine Field, from consideration.

Eventually, three greenfield sites – not necessarily vacant, open land, but property that could be developed into an airport – were selected as finalists: two in Pierce County and another in Thurston County, CACC chairman Warren Hendrickson said. All have faced extensive opposition from cities, county government and thousands of residents.

“It’s been very clearly demonstrated that none of the identified sites can move forward,” said Jake Pool, who lives near the central Pierce County location.

Opposition to the three final sites has brought the Legislature to the brink of restarting the entire process. House Bill 1791, proposed by House Transportation Committee Chair Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, and amended by 13th District Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, would replace the CACC with another group and start the process over.

Dent participated in Thursday’s CACC meeting and said while he understood the commission was trying to fulfill its mission, the bill to create a new Commercial Aviation Work Group is likely to be approved this month.

“From the Legislature’s point of view, we believe (House Bill 1791) is going to pass,” Dent said. “Once it’s signed, the CACC will no longer be in existence.”

Air cargo forecasts

Dent’s prediction, along with the lack of a previously established quorum among CACC voting members at Thursday’s meeting, meant any final recommendations from the panel would happen in May – if at all.

But the data and discussion generated about new regional airport sites could help the new work group, should the Legislature create one, CACC member Rudy Rudolph said.

With that in mind, Hendrickson introduced several members of the Seattle-based Kimley-Horn engineering consulting firm, which prepared a Washington Aviation System Plan that considered the pros and cons of the three finalist sites, an airspace analysis and air cargo forecasts for the state’s airports.

Regarding the latter, Sea-Tac, nearby Boeing Field in Seattle and Spokane International Airport accounted for 98% of the state’s total cargo tonnage in 2021, with Sea-Tac itself handling roughly two-thirds of Washington’s air cargo.

While air transportation is a very small percentage of how cargo is moved worldwide, items shipped that way tend to be higher in value, and the amount is growing, Kimley-Horn’s Michael Yablonski said. A slowdown in air cargo volume seen during COVID and the resulting supply-chain crisis is predicted to abate, with annual volume increasing as much as 4% annually over the next decade.

These numbers back up earlier CACC estimates that air cargo traffic through the region is expected to more than double, from 610,000 tons per year before the pandemic to 1.4 million tons in 2050.

At the same time, Sea-Tac is expected to max out its capacity at roughly 67 million annual passengers in 2030, CACC and Washington State Department of Transportation officials have said. By 2050, air passenger traffic in the Seattle region is expected to increase to 94 million annual passengers, leaving a capacity shortfall of 27 million passengers.

These figures prompted the CACC’s creation and its search for new regional airport sites. But lack of airspace, including conflicts with nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, are among several reasons the three sites in Pierce and Thurston counties fall short, the Kimley-Horn analysis concluded.

Hendrickson and other CACC members said that as long-term solutions are sought, some expansion at Paine Field in Everett could provide temporary relief to crowding at Sea-Tac.

“But we cannot meet the capacity needs of 2050 and beyond without a greenfield site,” Hendrickson said. “What I don’t think we’ve done is identify the right site yet."

“Does Yakima deserve a place (in the discussion)? I think it does,” he added. “Ultimately it comes down to how do we move 55,000 people a day out to Yakima.”

Contact Joel Donofrio at jdonofrio@yakimaherald.com.

Business Reporter

Joel Donofrio is the business reporter for the Yakima Herald. He was born and raised in the Chicago area, but he and his wife, Cathy, fell in love with the beauty (and low humidity) of the West and moved here in 2009, eventually relocating to Yakima in September 2021. They have two young adult children, Anthony and Joanna, and a dog, Molly.  When he is not taking photos of construction sites, tracking down new and relocating businesses or catching up on agricultural trends, Joel enjoys playing guitar, singing, listening to music and playing and watching sports. 

(8) comments


There's a huge opportunity & money right now to restore passenger rail service through central WA between Seattle & Spokane, whatever happens with YKM. No big airport w/o rail. Trains first!!

David Morales

High speed rail, Japanese style.


This is a regional problem, therefore regional solutions are needed. High speed rail from Tri-Cities through Yakima to Seattle would be required, which should be created anyway.


Some compromises will have to be made. Moving 50,000 plus people to and from Yakima every day is possible, given high speed rail. The benefits for Yakima would be immense.


Why not consolidate the Military operations of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Fairchild AFB into the Grant County Airport? That would leave the military facilities to become the regional airport needed.


Let’s first show that we can run our current facility. Reinstate early morning/late evening flights to/from Seattle. And add other destinations besides just Seattle. We can do much better!


I would love more transportation options out of Yakima. But a step toward achieving that would be to increase our flights out of Yakima to more than one flight daily and only to Seattle.


Even if we don't get passenger planes, we can do cargo, we are the ag central, it's funding to improve our infrastructure. plus the mentions in hearings can't hurt our city! Plan forward or fail!

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