Port of Pasco flying right

November 6, 2012 

The Port of Pasco is right on point with its plans for a $3 million expansion of the Tri-Cities Airport terminal.

We like the way port officials operate. They are involving everyone in the planning process, going so far as to appoint a citizens' committee to provide input and ideas for the revamped terminal.

Just last week, port commissioners had a scheduled meeting with the citizens' committee and also invited representatives from the firm that helped develop the new master plan for the airport. And the meeting was open to the public.

While we all enjoy the small town feel of our airport and the relative ease provided when traveling through it, we know it needs to grow as our community approaches a population of 400,000 people. And that figure doesn't take into account those from farther outlying areas who drive here to catch a flight.

Another factor prompting the port to move ahead with expansion plans is the airline industry. The trend there is far larger planes. That important shift for smaller airports like ours requires thoughtful planning to avoid future headaches.

Bigger planes mean more people. We already know what it's like when one of the larger planes has a scheduled flight. The terminal is crowded, putting pressure on the screening and boarding areas and stretching available services to capacity.

A consultant from an air service development group who was asked for input from commissioners said there are many advantages for airlines to use larger planes but the biggest driver is fuel costs.

Airplane manufacturers have found ways to make aircraft more efficient, but the rising price of fuel has all but negated those gains. The plain fact is it takes more fuel per seat to fly small planes than it does for bigger ones.

Fifty-seat planes already are being phased out and likely will disappear in the next decade, being replaced with 70 to 90-seat passenger jets. The downside for consumers is likely to be fewer flights per day but at least there will be more seats available on the larger planes.

That change could also mean that airfares would come down slightly.

For the Port of Pasco, it means more business at the airport. The timing is right for the terminal expansion, which will be paid for with the passenger facility charge collected from each airline ticket. The project will include expanded screening and a new boarding concourse, as well as other upgrades to the terminal.

That's one of the main drivers for the port's long-range plan to gather input from the citizens committee. The commissioners want to know what the public prefers at the airport before final plans are made.

We applaud the Port of Pasco for its ability to respond to our community and the airline industry's needs, and for doing the work upfront to make sure airport users have a voice in the process.

We look forward to seeing the final product, hopefully on our way to somewhere sunny and tropical.

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