Our Voice: If they fly there, Tri-Cities will board

June 30, 2013 

A recent increase in boardings at the Tri-Cities Airport proves what many of us already know: If airlines provide the flights, we will take them.

It's hard to beat the convenience of the airport in Pasco. Parking is easy and inexpensive, check-in and security are relatively painless except at a few peak travel times, and the whole process really doesn't take long compared with larger airports.

And we have direct flights to Los Angeles, Salt Lake, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and San Francisco in addition to Northwest airport hubs. That makes connecting flights accessible or a quick weekend trip to San Francisco a breeze.

It used to be cost-effective to drive to Spokane, Seattle or Portland to catch a flight. But the price of fuel and lodging needed to drive to another city and catch a flight has diminished any savings.

And the proof is in the numbers. May had 1,000 more boardings in 2013 than in 2012. Overall, however, the number of travelers is down about 5 percent this year compared with last, which was a record-setter at more than 330,000 boardings.

That decrease during the first three months of 2013 can partly be attributed to cuts to flights during the winter. We understand these seasonal cuts from a business perspective, but we're not sure the logic holds true that we travel less in cooler months. Isn't that when most of us are seeking sunshine?

As travelers, we can't remember the last time we boarded a flight to or from Pasco that wasn't full, regardless of the season.

The airport's director hopes to see airlines maintain the current level of service year-round. They have not apprised him yet if there will be seasonal reductions in service again this year.

The steady flow of travelers keeps the airport where it needs to be in terms of boardings needed to pay back a revenue bond the Port of Pasco wants to use to finance improvements to the airport. A $23.7 million bond would be issued by the port for a proposed expansion of the terminal and reconfiguration of services. It would be paid back over 20 years with revenue from passenger facility charges and other airport income.

More flights, more people, more money. That seems like a pretty simple equation to us.

Conceptual designs show the staircase and restrooms in the front of the terminal will be moved. That will open up the security screening area, alleviating some congestion and allowing for expanded security, ticketing and baggage areas.

Beyond screening, travelers would find a new concourse, with a view of the runway and gates on the right and left. The plans still are in the design phase and the port is hoping to complete the whole project in one phase with an expected price tag for the renovation of $35 million.

The terminal sure could use a facelift and some modernization. And the flow for travelers could be improved.

But as the numbers show, people are just fine using it as is for now and we're sure that the boardings will only increase after the renovations.

As long as the airlines keep providing this volume of flights and destinations, we'll keep climbing aboard.

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