Aviation Commission Recommends Three Sites for Washington Next Airport — Including One in Thurston County


The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission recommended three “greenfield” sites for a new commercial airport in Washington state as part of a plan to deal with the fact that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is on track to exceed its capacity by 2050.

The three sites were chosen from a list of 10 greenfield, or undeveloped, locations by the commission, which was tasked by the state Legislature in 2019 with identifying a potential site for a new airport to be constructed by 2040. Two of these sites were in Pierce County and one in Thurston County.

The 15-member body of state, industry, and community representatives voted 12-0, with one abstention, for the three locations as part of a plan that also includes looking into adding capacity to Snohomish County Airport, better known as Paine Field. The airport was one of six being considered.

“It’s also important for everyone to understand that additional analysis is going to be necessary on any site recommended,” commission Chair David Fleckenstein said during Friday’s virtual meeting. “It does not mean a new airport will be located on one of those sites, as they all have their unique challenges that have to be thought about and addressed.”

Airspace, infrastructure requirements, air cargo, community impact, environmental challenges, and cost estimates will be part of the analysis, he explained.

To accommodate growing passenger and cargo traffic in the region, plans call for a location appropriate for a two-runway airport on approximately 3,100 acres, according to an August site selection study by state consultant Kimley-Horn.

That includes a primary 11,000-foot-long runway capable of handling commercial passenger and cargo aircraft.

The three sites chosen are dubbed “Pierce County East,” “Pierce County Central,” and “Thurston County Central.”

“Pierce County East” is the designation for a six-mile radius area south of Graham that includes state Route 161. “Pierce County Central” is a six-mile radius south of South Creek in an area where state Routes 702 and 7 converge. “Thurston County Central” is a six-mile radius southeast of East Olympia.

Sea-Tac Airport serves about 50 million passengers a year, according to a study from the Puget Sound Regional Council.

“Demand for take-offs and landings in the region is projected to double by 2050 from over 400,000 to over 800,000 per year,” the PSRC website states. “This is expected to result in a regional gap in service by 2050 that is roughly equivalent to all the passengers served at Sea-Tac in 2019.”

The commission expects to narrow its recommendations to a single site for a new airport by June 2023.