Pasco's Tri-Cities Airport use declines

Tri-City Herald staff writerApril 24, 2013 

— The Tri-Cities Airport’s record growth in boardings seems to have stalled this year.

But Port of Pasco officials still say the port should be able to afford a $35 million, “once in a generation” renovation of the airport terminal in one phase.

Airport Director Ron Foraker told port commissioners Wednesday that Hanford layoffs, federal budget cuts and fewer flights caused the number of boardings to drop. It’s the first dip in the number of people flying in and out of the Tri-Cities since 2009, Foraker said.

Last year, total boardings reached nearly 331,300. That’s up 1.4 percent from the previous year and an overall jump of 100,000 boardings since 2008.

At the current pace, the airport should see about 300,000 passengers boarding flights this year, estimated Linda O’Brien, the port’s finance and administration director. Most of the decrease can be attributed to some airlines offering fewer flights, Foraker said.

Direct flights to Los Angeles were canceled in August, and San Francisco, Minneapolis and Denver flights were reduced during the winter months.

All but a Minneapolis flight have resumed, and that flight should be back in May.

Still, port staff say that even if boardings fall to as few as 251,000 this year, there would be enough airport revenue for the airport terminal project.

The number of boardings affects the amount of airport improvement program money received from the Federal Aviation Administration and the passenger facility charges collected from airline tickets.

“We are still planning on doing the whole project if possible,” O’Brien said.

The proposed conceptual design for the terminal includes moving the staircase and restrooms to the front of the building to open up the area near the security checkpoint. Security, ticketing and baggage areas also would be expanded.

A new concourse beyond the security area would feature a view of the airfield, with gates to the right and left.

Port commissioners want to pay for the entire project using only airport revenue, so that airport users are paying for the improvements instead of taxpayers.

The port would issue a bond for about

$23.7 million, paid back over 20 years using passenger facility charges and other airport revenue.

The other revenue would come from the increased parking fees and from the new customer facility charge that rental car companies are paying, O’Brien said.

Port Executive Director Jim Toomey said the port will likely issue the bonds in the next 12 months. Port staff will continue to monitor boardings and revenues, and the commission could still decide to do the project in phases.

O’Brien said the biggest risk is if the cost of the project ends up higher.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com


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