The recent additions of non-stop flights to major U.S. cities from Spokane – Delta’s straight shot to Los Angeles and being able to connect to Chicago’s Midway Airport via Southwest – continue to dispel that old idea that you can’t get there from here.
For years, flying out of Spokane International Airport and reaching anywhere other than Seattle or Portland likely meant at least one, if not more, stops.
But while there is plenty of fanfare and hoopla surrounding Delta’s inaugural trip to LAX, including the ceremonial red carpet and a shower of water from SIA’s fire trucks, routes to and from Spokane, along with the airlines flying them, come and go.
Even those thought to be no-brainers, Southwest’s Seattle or Portland runs for instance, have been trimmed in recent years, perhaps a symptom of recent slight drops in traffic. SIA saw a 3-percent reduction in “enplanements,” a term used to describe passenger traffic leaving a given airport.
After SIA reached a high of slightly more than 1.7 million people in 2007, that figure fell to 1.59 million in 2010, the last year reported in SIA’s recently released master plan.
So just as some ski resorts have found stability in a volatile business dictated by Mother Nature by investing in real estate, airports also look beyond passenger traffic.
Moving people in and out of Spokane is still job No. 1 for SIA, enough so that the master plan includes how a future third runway might look, or even an entirely new terminal.
“It really depends on how fast or how slow traffic – when we say traffic we mean landings and takeoffs – really the timing for that depends on how fast or how slow operations grow,” airport director and CEO Larry Krauter said.
If the growth was fast Krauter said it might be as soon as 20 years and if the pace was slower it might not be for 30 years. “When?” is one of the most asked questions and Krauter was quick to point out, “We don’t know.”
The good news he said is that the land is already part of airport property, and additionally the various governmental agencies have all gotten zoning in line.
“That’s really the most important thing,” he said. “We have the land and then do we have the zoning protections in place, yes we do.”
The airspace is protected, the land is protected, unlike the west side of the state where it took about 30 years for SeaTac International to gets its third runway.
Those, Krauter said, “Were two good prudent planning steps.”
Krauter said the master plan is simply an effort to address growth and anticipate where potential bottlenecks might be.
He did not want to overplay the master plan that was recently showcased to the public in a series of community open houses.
“This is not a public relations exercise,” he said. “It’s sort of what I call the Joe Friday stuff; every airport has to have a master plan; every airport has to update its master plan periodically and that’s what we’re doing.”
Part of that plan, of course, looks at those alternative sources of revenue that will continue to make the airport both profitable and self-sufficient. SIA is a municipal corporation organized under the RCWs of the state and jointly owned by the city of Spokane and Spokane County. It is 100 percent self-sufficient from revenues generated from leases, fees and concession agreements.
One of those different directions is what has been called the proposed Air Spokane Initiative. That’s an effort to recruit what are referred to as large Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, either Boeing, Airbus or both, Krauter said.
There are provisions for a final assembly area that would be connected to the airfield.
“Again, that is very, very long-range,” Krauter said. “But we wanted to plan that area out so we can show prospective clients that they can bring products in maybe in raw form – those products would come in to what we call a transportation and logistics area – out near Craig Road.”
Rail cars can sometimes be seen hauling partially assembled 737 aircraft bodies as they head to Puget Sound to have the finishing touches put on them.
The SIA “campus” as Krauter likes to sometimes refer to the airport property holdings that stretch across to the border with Fairchild Air Force Base, might in the future be a stopping point for those fuselages.
Included would be warehousing, delivery, etc. and moving those products from west to east where an actual plane could be flown out. It might be similar to Paine Field in Everett where Boeing assembles a variety of aircraft.
Spokane could become a place that might be able to handle overflow for Boeing as their production ramps up.
“They may reach a practical limit of what they can do in the Puget Sound and if they need more space to do that this might be a reasonable alternative for them to consider,” Krauter said.
The other thing that can’t be discounted is the proximity of Fairchild. SIA sits in the middle of significant civilian and defense aeronautical facilities. “I think this represents a unique value proposition that not many airports across the country can present,” Krauter said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.