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Yakima airport volunteers for Washington’s capacity expansion with electrifying plan

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(The Center Square) – As the Washington Department of Transportation continues its task of recommending a site for a future commercial airport in the state, the City of Yakima is willing to take on an expansion with electric aviation in mind.

The Washington Department of Transportation’s Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission is sunsetting after a failed four-year search for a site for a future commercial airport.

Department officials expect a new airport will be needed in the state because the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is on track to exceed its capacity by 2050. The commission recommended three sites last year, but all were near-unanimously panned by the public.

Yakima Air Terminal Director, and former Washington Department of Transportation Senior Aviation Planner, Robert Hodgman originally vouched for the city’s airport to be considered for the expansion by the state’s Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission on Jan. 5, but the proposed plan did not receive much consideration by members.

Hodgman said he sensed that the commission was not aware of the strategy put together by the Yakima Air Terminal or lacked confidence in the plan.

The Yakima Air Terminal’s plan to take on the expansion of the state’s commercial airport capacity emphasizes the feasibility of electrifying domestic travel within Washington state. Hodgman directed The Center Square to an electric aircraft feasibility study conducted by the transportation department in 2020.

The report states that electric aircraft are forecast to start increasing air taxi and commuter passengers “as soon as 2025, with dramatic growth after 2032.”

Hodgman estimates it takes 10 years to expand an existing airport, whereas building an entirely new airport would take a minimum of 20 years and would cost more. Electric aviation is anticipated to be ready for commercial use within the next 10 years.

“The technology is on an excellent trajectory to be scaled for commercial flights,” Hodgman said to The Center Square in a phone call.

Yakima is located in Central Washington, where the 11 other Washington state commercial airports are within a 200-mile radius, making electric aviation travel more feasible, according to Hodgman. Flights from Yakima to other Washington cities would take between 30 to 45 minutes, he said.

Flights on these electric airplanes would be cheaper as well due to electricity being cheaper than kerosene fuel used by aircraft today.

The Yakima Airport was also notified by the electric utility company Pacific Power that it could accommodate electric aviation growth in 10 years. Specifically, the company could provide 30 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to fast charge 30 electric airplanes at once.

Hodgman also described the idea of airport expansion as a “win-win” for all parties involved, including Washington airports that connect with Yakima in utilizing electric aviation by increasing job opportunities surrounding the Yakima Air Terminal and other Washington airports that see electric-powered flights come in through, as well as more foot traffic for local Yakima businesses.

“It’s a shot in the arm for the economy of all these communities across the state and it’s very much attainable in 10 years,” Hodgman said.

The state’s new Commercial Aviation Work Group is set to convene on July 23 to discuss future recommendations for a potential site for a future commercial airport.

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