State eyes Moses Lake for new airport

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald An EA-18G Growler gets ready to land at Grant County International Airport last week. A newly-formed state commission is looking at GCIA as a possible solution to Sea-Tac Airport’s congestion problems.

MOSES LAKE — With the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) handling just about as much air traffic as it can, the state of Washington needs a new big airport.

“Our one, big international airport is at capacity,” said state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines. “Parked planes sit, there are delays, trucks arrive and cannot load or unload easily.”

“My district includes Sea-Tac,” Keiser continued. “It’s an economic engine, creates lots of jobs and lots of growth, but with that comes noise and pollution.”

Nearly 50 million people flew into and out of Sea-Tac in 2018, while cargo shippers airlifted 432,000 metric tons of cargo to and from Sea-Tac, according to data from the Port of Seattle, which oversees the airport. In fact, both passengers and freight increased roughly 8 percent in 2018 from the previous year.

“It’s just overcrowded,” said Keiser. “It’s the fastest growing major airport in the country.”

While there’s been talk for years about the need to address the problem of Sea-Tac, Keiser finally decided to do something about, authoring legislation that creates a 13-member commission to recommend a solution — a new airport, or expansion of a current airport, or some combination of the two — no later than Jan. 1, 2022.

The commission will include representatives from commercial aviation, freight, trucking, environmental organizations, a community group familiar with the effect of large airports, and representatives from the Port of Seattle, Spokane International Airport, and the Port of Moses Lake.

“We don’t want to skip any possibilities, so we want to be at the table,” said Port of Moses Lake Commissioner David “Kent” Jones.

While Keiser says she wants the commission to make the ultimate decision, a sense is already emerging that the state’s next big airport will not be all things for all people.

“The hub and spoke system is not sustainable,” Keiser said. “Everything in one big location doesn’t work.”

In fact, Keiser said Moses Lake has some “unique attributes” that would make it a good home for expanded cargo services, something she added should be distributed more evenly across the state.

According to Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, and Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, both of whom co-sponsored the legislation establishing the airport commission, the Grant County International Airport would be a good place to base some air cargo operations, but would probably not be a good location for new passenger service since there is no easy or quick way to get to Seattle from here.

However, both Dent and Warnick noted that GCIA would need more infrastructure — roads and railroads — to be an effective cargo hub.

Dent pointed to the Denver International Airport, built significantly east of the city, and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, built nearly 40 miles east of the Japanese capital. Any new passenger airport will still likely be built somewhere on the west side of the state, he said.

“This is a complicated issue,” Warnick said. “But if we don’t have the infrastructure here, it won’t fly.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com

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