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By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Spokane International Airport's future is not only about flying

Airport’s recently unveiled master plan sees a future in aerospace

 

Spokane International Airport

In years to come Spokane International Airport will be more than just a place to catch a plane. The hope is to have its economic engine match the roar of the jets.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas promotes the primary local industry – gambling – right in the faces of arriving passengers who must pass banks of slot machines on the way to fetch their luggage.

They also let you drop any left over coins in even more terminal slots as visitors await their departures.

In the future, Spokane International Airport would like to be a little less obvious with their efforts to bolster the local economy.

As airport director and CEO, Larry Krauter recently promoted SIA’s master plan through a series of community open houses, it became very obvious that the former Sunset and Geiger Field was not just a place to get to, or from someplace else.

The open houses, which were staged across Spokane County, showed future plans for a third runway, and a greatly different terminal arrangement. One part of the plan even shows an entirely new terminal to the west, served by that new runway.

But Krauter is quick to point out what was seen in the schematics and architect’s renderings are just that – plans.

“Some people get completely focused on, ‘Oh they’re going to build a third runway, oh they’re going to do this terminal building, and oh my gosh they’re going to spend all this money out there,’” Krauter explained. “They look back at the last few years and oh, there’s been a decline in passenger activity, why are they doing all this stuff?”

“Building is something different,” Krauter stressed, so he is pressing ahead to make sure the public knows exactly what is going on within the confines of the vast holdings of SIA.

And while it still involves planes, it’s not limited to passengers negotiating the maze of TSA agents.

“I think it begins to – for really the first time – create an understanding in the community about the airport’s true economic development potential,” Krauter said. “That’s what’s really important about that aspect of the plan, it’s more than just getting people on airplanes.”

The new vision is continuation of a process that started about 10 years ago.

The first project was renovation of a former military hangar Krauter said which was leased to a company that does aircraft overhaul. That was followed in 2010 by a painting facility that was leased to Associated Painters. Other businesses in what is referred to as the East Area Development in the master plan include Aircraft Solutions and Northwest Flight School.

“The concept there is that we can cluster maintenance, repair and overhaul activities,” Krauter said. “It’s in a good area of the airport to do that, operationally, there’s available land.”

The issue, Krauter said, was there’s what he called a cutout of land still under control of the National Guard. “What the master plan says is this is one area we’d like to develop over time,” he said. The area could accommodate three of four more hangars.

There is enough land capacity on existing airport property, however, if that property becomes available with relocation of the Air Guard facilities, a phase out or whatever, Krauter said they wanted to show possible further acquisition of land in the master plan.

“That way it’s out there and not something people say we dream up at the last second,” he said. “It’s not something we have to have today to make the airport work.”

The maintenance, repair and overhaul focus is important for a couple of reasons Krauter said. “One is that it’s a real great job creator and it creates the kind of jobs that pay well which are family wage sustaining jobs.”

Having such facilities onsite helps SIA market to the airlines, he said.

“They like to have on-network MRO’s so if their airplane breaks there’s somebody there to fix it so they don’t have to fly in a rescue plane, they don’t have to fly in a mechanic, parts or other things,” Krauter said. MRO is short for maintenance, repair and overhaul.

There are a number of different reasons to grow this aspect of the complex, Krauter said. Most airlines that fly into Spokane do so from long distances, he said. Alaska Airlines already has a Q-400 maintenance facility that was leased to the company earlier this year.

It’s an area Krauter sees growth and development over time. Having that property is not vital to the growth, Krauter emphasized, “But if it does become available, it should come to us,” he said.

“Yes there are industrial parks at airports across the country,” Krauter said. “That’s not some kind of epiphany, but an integrated, corporate aerospace campus is something different.”

Earlier, the airport purchased land adjacent to Fairchild and the Airport Board recently authorized additional acquisitions. That will make sure there is one contiguous owner of land between the airport and base.

Next Week: The Air Spokane Initiative and how it could transform the area into a major aerospace player.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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