A group tasked with recommending a site for a second Puget Sound commercial airport besides crowded Sea-Tac International is asking Gig Harbor residents whether they believe it would make sense to expand Tacoma Narrows Airport.
The local airfield is on a preliminary list of six meeting the basic criteria, but Tacoma Narrows owner Pierce County and the city of Gig Harbor have already made clear they want nothing to do with airliners and cargo planes. The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission is still looking at the possibility of expanding general aviation there.
Tacoma Narrows Airport presents many obstacles to commercial flights, primarily that locals don’t want them. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Narrows Airport
The group of elected officials and aviation experts, formed by the state Legislature in 2019, crafted the short list of six possible sites that in addition to Tacoma Narrows includes Arlington Municipal, Paine Field (Everett), Bremerton National, South Lewis County (Toledo) and Sanderson Field (Shelton). They were supposed to reduce it to two finalists two months ago, but the schedule was extended because the pandemic interfered with their ability to engage the public. Deadlines have been extended to February for the final six, October for the top two and February 2023 for the preferred location.
Earlier this year, an invitation to take a survey about aviation priorities and addressing demand was sent to random addresses in eight counties, including Pierce. An online open house is available now until Dec. 8 to provide further feedback, at engage.wsdot.wa.gov/cacc.
Forecasts predict that demand for air travel will double by 2050. Even with planned expansion at Sea-Tac and the potential for Paine Field to grow, there will be an estimated 27 million unmet passenger boardings each year, the equivalent of another Sea-Tac. Similarly, air cargo demand is expected to more than double.
A year ago, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and the Gig Harbor City Council asked the commission to remove Tacoma Narrows from the list of airports being considered for expansion of commercial passenger service.
“Pierce County is not supportive, nor will we take steps, to expand the airport runway to accommodate either large commercial air service or air cargo operations,” Dammeier wrote in a letter to the commission.
Even without local opposition, Tacoma Narrows was a poor candidate because of limited acreage, a short runway, nearby homes, potential traffic congestion and lack of interest from airlines.
“There are two primary things the commission looks at,” said David Fleckenstein, state Department of Transportation aviation director. “It has to have sponsor support, in this case the county, and airline support, and Tacoma Narrows has neither.
“They don’t want it. The commission is not going to buck what the sponsor has requested nor the airlines. If the airlines don’t support it, the commission is not going to try to push it, and it would be very hard to do regardless because of the surrounding area, the build-up of housing. There are just a lot of factors against commercial service for Tacoma Narrows.”
“Tacoma Narrows stays on the list because the commission will make recommendations for commercial air service, cargo and general aviation (small planes). The county told us it’s open to general aviation only. It could absorb some from other airports, but it’s unlikely to support passenger or cargo air service.”
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