YAKIMA, Wash. -- Central Washington University is unlikely to secure funding this legislative session to begin a potential relocation of its flight training program from Ellensburg to McAllister Field in Yakima, the university president said Thursday.
CWU President James Gaudino said the university requested $5 million to acquire and renovate facilities in Yakima and another $9 million to build a hangar separate from its usual process.
“We made those requests directly to the Legislature,” he said. “We did this very late in the process.”
Even without the late request, Gaudino said securing capital funding for aviation would have proved challenging this year. Lawmakers are straining to fund a variety of needs, from K-12 programs to mental health services within schools, he said. And CWU has submitted other requests, including funding for a new health sciences building.
There’s been no decision to move the program, and CWU officials have said in the past they’d prefer to keep the program in Ellensburg.
CWU took over some fixed-base operations at Bowers Field in Kittitas County in 2018 and has a lease through 2023. If and when capital funding comes through, CWU would begin negotiations with Yakima, he said. CWU plans to apply for funding again next year if it fails to secure it this round.
Yakima is the only alternative location to Ellensburg that the university is considering once the lease expires, he said.
Gaudino said remaining in Ellensburg also would require building a new hangar and moving operations within the airport.
“I would still need the hangars. I would need to enlarge the academic building that I have in Ellensburg,” said Gaudino, adding that the cost would be comparable in either scenario and require roughly three years of prep for a smooth program transition. “Any construction, whether it’s in Ellensburg or Yakima, would be a multiyear process.”
The university has been working to expand its aviation program as demand for pilots regionally has grown. Enrollment increased as Ellensburg’s airport started struggling to fund improvements, and in 2017 Kittitas County shut down the airport’s secondary runway due to safety and pavement issues. The university’s program makes up more than 90 percent of takeoffs and landings, according to the county’s airport master plan.
The aviation program had 255 students as of early 2018, with 165 majoring in flight and 100 management majors. CWU acquired five Piper Archer aircraft for students in late 2017. In November of the same year, the CWU Board of Trustees approved a resolution asking staff to examine options at Bowers and McAllister fields.
Kittitas County Commissioner Cory Wright said he met with Gaudino last month and clarified a misunderstanding that the county wasn’t interested in retaining the CWU program.
“We’ve always been interested in keeping them there,” he said.
Wright said the meeting helped reveal a common vision for the airport, and that a future agreement would be in the best interests of both the county and the university.
“We’re looking into putting together a new deal for the long term,” he said. This would include the county agreeing to retain new economic investments to maintain the airport, while the university would pay the market price for a lease.
Wright said in anticipation of the 2023 lease lapse, CWU could either build its own hangar on 7 acres that it is already leasing through 2067 or look into building in another area of the airport to expand the program.
CWU’s aviation program is the only fully accredited public university aviation program in the Northwest, according to the school.