Yakima's city manager talks serious airport expansion and growth

Yakima's city manager talks serious airport expansion and growth
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima City Manager Tony O'Rourke presented several ideas at a joint study session Tuesday, to improve our local airport, which he called "under-performing" and "deficit-driven.”

In an interview last week with KIMA, O'Rourke identified the airport as the key to Yakima's economic growth.

Cierra Epp flies into Yakima three times a year to visit family. The airport saves her a long drive, but she'd like to have more options.

"It's a pain. And, usually the tickets are so much more when you go directly from here to somewhere," said Epp.

Getting more airlines to set up shop at Yakima's airport has been a struggle.

Delta Airlines pulled out several years ago. Many people drive to the Tri-Cities or to Seattle for a flight.

City Manager O'Rourke presented several options to improve the local airport.

"The airport in any community, particularly this community is a huge economic development tool and it should be a great asset for the community," said O'Rourke.

The keyword there is "should" be.

O'Rourke proposes the county and city hire a consultant to determine how Yakima should approach expanding air service.

He also recommends creating an alliance among local governments and the private sector.

Each member would put up money to underwrite air service to Yakima. It would help an airline when local passengers don't fill up the flights.

Something similar was done to bring Delta here. That money was lost.

KIMA asked O'Rourke, "It didn't work, so why try again?"

"In that particular case, it was a good effort, but it was only a one-year commitment. You need a multi-year commitment," said O'Rourke.

The airport board of directors also presented an update on the airport's "master plan."

It explores ideas like expanding the runway and renovating the terminal.

The number of passengers using Yakima's airport is expected to grow by almost 100,000 over the next 20 years.

O'Rourke said big changes are needed at the airport in order to reach that number.

Both the county and city agreed that it’s best to get the airport's master plan in place before fully moving forward with other proposals.

The airport board expects to have a plan ready to vote by the end of the year.

Yakima's city manager also thinks privatizing the management of the airport should be explored.

City Council members and county commissioners seemed to be on-board with hiring a consultant to study the airport.

That could cost around $70,000.