Yakima County Development Association - Yakima Airport's Future Up In the Air

Jonathan Smith

The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news. 

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Yakima Airport's Future Up In the Air

October 17, 2011

Our airport is under a magnifying glass for the next few months as our community undertakes a new airport master planning process.  It has been a long time since the Yakima region completed a fresh plan for the airport so the current effort is important.

John Yarnish, with the consulting firm URS, is leading the master planning effort.  He met with a number of stakeholders last week and shared a number of significant aviation trends that will shape our airport's future challenges and opportunities.  Yarnish was ultimately optimistic about Yakima's airport, suggesting that we can retain current aviation activities and possibly develop new services that support the area.

Yarnish said the commercial aviation industry will continue to face challenges.  The airlines are cutting flights, adding service charges, and building cross company alliances to survive.  Revenue per seat mile is the new industry metric and it puts a premium on keeping planes in the air.  Expect airlines to cut turnaround times at airports as they work to maximize each plane's efficiency.  John felt that Yakima should be able to keep Alaska (Horizon) but that if our passenger loads dropped we could lose more flight options to Seattle.  He was not optimistic that our area could attract new service unless industry performance metrics improve or change.

General aviation activities are a big part of the Yakima airport's future.  Small planes and jets account for 78 percent of the airport's traffic already, and Yarnish suggested there could be more demand for hangars and general aviation activities at the airport.  Increases in sport pilot certificates and business travel are offsetting declines in recreational flying (a national trend) and as long as commercial flights from Yakima are limited, Yarnish sees a positive future for general aviation activities in our area.

One glaring factor will certainly affect Yakima's airport.  At the moment approximately 150,000 of the area's market of 200,000 enplaned passengers travel to other airports to take their trips.  With this significant leakage it will be very hard to attract new air commercial air carriers to Yakima.  Yarnish suggested that people can support their local airport by choosing the local flight option.  He realizes people might drive to another airport for a cheaper or more efficient trip, but reminded everyone to carefully compare options as there are often other hidden costs involved when traveling to distant airports.

The airport master planning process is just starting so there will be plenty of time to learn more about our airport's future and provide comments that shape its future.  If you want to be involved in this process or stay informed about the airport master plan, please contact Lee Remmel or Rob Peterson at the airport at 509-575-6149 or  rob.peterson@yakimaairterminal.com


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