Art Choat, key figure in Bellingham airport growth, dies

BELLINGHAM - Art Choat, former aviation director at the Port of Bellingham, died Tuesday, Nov. 27, after a battle with lung cancer. He was 63.

Choat retired in November 2011 after presiding over years of dramatic growth in commercial aviation at Bellingham International Airport.

He became aviation director in 2002 when the airport had fewer than 100,000 outbound passengers per year, all on short hops to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Today, the Bellingham airport has more than a half-million outbound passengers per year, with direct flights to Hawaii, California, Phoenix and Las Vegas, as well as Seattle.

During Choat's retirement reception last year, Allegiant Airlines representatives credited him with a key role in getting the airline established here, with a base for Allegiant aircraft as well as direct service to several cities.

Choat joined the port in 1982 after private-sector experience with Weldcraft and Uniflite, the defunct boat-building firm that was once a major employer in Bellingham. Before he assumed responsibility for the airport, he worked in a number of supervisory jobs on the waterfront, including harbormaster at Squalicum Harbor and, later, director of marine services. Among other things, he oversaw the expansion of the port's Blaine marina in the 1980s.