A once-in-a-generation expansion of the Tri-Cities Airport is causing Port of Pasco officials to debate how to pay for everything from new parking spaces to more seats in the boarding area.
Upping parking lot fees is one idea the port is considering to help pay for the estimated $9.3 million expansion of the airport terminal.
Expected revenues can't keep up with the capital expenses, said Randy Hayden, the port's director of planning and engineering. The airport is at capacity and the last expansion project was in 1985.
Most days from 5:15 to 6:30 a.m., all seats in the boarding area are taken. And during the Christmas season, all but 20 parking spots were full.
Port of Pasco commissioners said Thursday that they will consider whether to increase parking fees at the airport at their April 12 meeting.
"I don't think it is whether we are going to do it, it's when we are going to do it," said port Commissioner Ron Reimann.
Commissioners will consider adding $2 per day to long-term parking and $1 per day for short-term parking, bringing the long-term fee to $9 a day and the short-term parking fee to $11 a day. The increase would generate about $540,000 a year.
And it would bring the parking fees in line with similar-sized airports, Reimann said. It would be the first increase is about seven years.
Commissioner Jim Klindworth suggested having the fee increase start July 1.
The terminal project involves a remodel of the terminal near the Transportation Security Administration's security area. The bathrooms will be moved and the area will be opened up so that a queue can be formed for security, similar to at larger airports.
And it will involve extending the secured boarding area to the left and right to add gates, with more room for concessions and services and an expanded seating area.
Port commissioners have set aside $3 million for the first phase of terminal improvements and have another $1.8 million from passenger facility charges from airline tickets that could be used.
But even with the savings, airport revenue won't accrue fast enough to pay for the improvements in the next five years, said Linda O'Brien, the port's director of finance and administration.
The port is considering using revenue bonds that would be repaid with passenger facility charges. O'Brien said that would require Federal Aviation Administration approval, but is something that has been done by other airports.
Even with all that, port Executive Director Jim Toomey said it is likely the port will have to use nonairport money to pay for part of the airport improvements.
"We need to get the airport paying its way," Reimann said. That will allow the port to work on other economic development projects.
The port will go through a terminal area concept study this year, which is part of the process for designing and making the improvements.
The first phase of the terminal expansion could begin in 2013, and would help resolve the chokepoint near the TSA screening area, said Tri-Cites Airport Director Ron Foraker.
Increasing airport use might cause the port to build an 88-space overflow parking lot to the northwest of the long-term parking lot during the last half of this year. The project will be designed this year, and the decision may go before commissioners sometime this summer, Foraker said.
So far this year, the airport is seeing a growth rate of about 4 percent in passenger boardings compared with the same time last year, Foraker said.
Hanford layoffs did not appear to have much effect on airport use, O'Brien said. And the airport has been drawing in people from the region, including Yakima, Moses Lake, Walla Walla and La Grande, Hayden said.
If the airport sees the national growth rate of 3 percent, it would reach about 336,600 boardings for 2012, Foraker said. That would be about 100,000 more boardings a year than the airport saw five years ago.
Last year, the airport's boardings grew by 8 percent, he said.
The port also is looking at preserving the opportunity to extend Runaway 12 and its taxiway by about 1,800 lineal feet, Foraker said. That would allow the airport to accommodate larger planes.
But if the runway is extended, the required protection zones around the runway would reach property currently planned for a residential development, Foraker said.
Foraker said they have talked about their plans with the owner, but are limited in what they can talk about without FAA approval.
The port would want to be able to get reimbursed by the FAA for buying any land needed to extend the runway. The FAA generally does that when the runway extension happens.
Foraker said they would hate to lose the chance for the Tri-Cities Airport to expand, and Runway 12 is the only option.