Port of Kennewick officials say airport cost calculations are correct

By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writerFebruary 27, 2013 

Port of Kennewick commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday that the way they've been calculating the costs for operating Vista Field Airport is correct.

Airport supporters challenged the method and some of the figures used in a study of the small general aviation airport near the Three Rivers Convention Center.

Expanding the airport at a public cost of $42.6 million would result in an annual operating loss of almost $640,000 by 2035, according to the draft study.

Following the 2011 master plan for the airport, which relied on private sector investments in airport projects, would end up with a $390,000 annual operating loss, said the study.

The port has been struggling to find a way to revitalize the 90-acre airfield after deciding two years ago to keep it open in hopes of recruiting more businesses. A consultant was hired to do a $225,000 independent review after efforts to find an operator fell through.

Port officials said that last year they lost an estimated $235,000 on the airport, not including depreciation costs or the cost of the current study. Including depreciation, the loss grows to about $419,000, says the port.

Tammy Fine, the port's finance director and auditor, said almost all publicly owned Washington airports lose money, based on information from the Federal Aviation Administration and state Department of Transportation. Sea-Tac Airport is the only one that operates in the black.

In general, the more spent on an airport, the higher the loss, she said.

Costs for Vista Field include staff time, which is about 12 percent of the total hours worked by port employees, Fine said. That does not include one-time projects and unusual tasks like the current airport study.

The depreciation amount only reflects what the port has spent, she said. Future repairs and replacement costs will likely be higher because inflation was not included in the total, she said.

The port has spent about $5.6 million on the airport since 1991, Fine said. The port received almost $310,000 of state transportation money for airport projects during the same period.

Port Commissioner Don Barnes pointed out that those capital investments were not supported by FAA funding, since Vista Field does not qualify for the federal money because it's too close to the Pasco and Richland airports.

Marjy Leggett of Pasco, an airport support network volunteer for Vista Field, and Carl Cadwell of Cadwell Laboratories, an airport user, told commissioners that they did not feel it was made clear that the 2011 master plan was the so-called "no-action alternative." The two pilots said that 2011 plan was what they wanted to see implemented.

Leggett asked if the port was going to use the same cost allocation method to look at all the other port properties. Port Commission President Skip Novakovich said they have asked staff to do that.

The final study of what to do with Vista Field is expected sometime in March.

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