By CHRIS TAYLOR
While many have expressed concern about the initial funding to purchase AJ Eisenberg Airport, the first question that we should ask ourselves is: What does it cost to not have an airport?
As the owner of Lynk Air, a federally certificated air carrier, I’ve studied the airport and the economics closely for about 5 years. I’ve operated commercial air operations to and from SEATAC under this certificate. I’ve also helped to manage the airport and its operations, working with the FAA, Washington State Department of Transportation – Aviation Division, the National Business Aviation Association, regional airport managers and port authorities.
Island County is the largest economy in Washington without a functioning airport, with the Naval Air Station alone contributing over $1 billion. From the WSDOT’s own economic impact calculator, a functioning airport would bring approximately $30 million to the economy, provide 100s of jobs and millions of tax dollars. Additional benefits include increased tourism, business travel, disaster management, support to health care by through emergency medical transportation and bringing specialists to the island, recreational aviation, support to aviation related businesses and aerospace education, freight, express and mail services such as FedEx/UPS, and of course connections to SEATAC. In short, everyone on the island benefits from a functioning airport.
It may sound like a difficult thing – building an airport. Like most things, it’s not that hard when you have the basics. This has been done thousands of times already, all across the country and also with our neighboring communities with great success. One needs to look no further than the Port of Skagit, Port of Friday Harbor and Port of Port Angeles. Per WSDOT, these airports contribute $66 million, $54 million, $26 million respectively to their communities in economic impact. For the community and government, think of the tax revenue not coming into our community! The airport at Friday Harbor provides over 470 jobs to the community and $30 million in labor earnings from those jobs. Each of these airports has been successfully funded through WSDOT’s $240 million in available funding for Airport Improvement.
Development of an airport may sound expensive to the community. It’s not. Rebuilding the runway and the surrounding environment is certainly expensive, several million dollars. This is why it is very, very rare for a privately funded airport to meet federal safety standards for commercial air transportation. Each of the above ports has also successfully gained access to state and federal Airport Improvement Funds (AIP). The recipient government entity provides a commitment, typically 10-15% of the project cost, and the rest is covered by program funds. AIP funds typically focus on runways, which is a key requirement for this airport. The existing runway’s condition scored an 11 out of 100 by WSDOT’s analysis – this is why Kenmore and Lynk Air left; not because there isn’t opportunity here. Harbor Air flew 17,000 passengers a year. The return on investment for this to the community is short.
The path may also sound difficult or unknown. The following has been done successfully, thousands of times all across the country. It can be boiled down to three simple steps:
1. The property must be in title of a government entity. The government is not in the practice of funding private airports. AIP funds are not available to individuals and non-government entities. This is why it is important for the Port of Coupeville to take ownership.
2. Hire an airport manager. There are professional people that do this, and they are not hard to find. The Port doesn’t “run the airport” any more than a commissioner designs county road systems.
3. Create an airport development plan. This is the roadmap for how the airport is to be built and how it meets compliance, safety and integration. There are companies that do this every day for a reasonable cost, supported by the WSDOT Aviation Division. The airport manager manages this, and when complete submits to state and federal entities for funding. Yes, this is competitive, but it is given to the communities with the most impact, for example $1 billion economies with no airport.
I urge you to contact your state and local government to show your support for this economic development engine and asset to our community.
I offer the above as a citizen of the community who wants the best for us. With my business hat on, Lynk Air is ready to provide air service from the airport with pilots, aircraft and a terminal from a safe, well-developed airport with the appropriate infrastructure. This may be our last chance to see this happen.
Chris E. Taylor is a resident of Coupeville and the CEO of Lynk Air.