The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Aviation Division selected the Chehalis-Centralia Airport Municipal Airport as one of the six electric aircraft beta test sites in the state after conducting an electric aircraft feasibility study late last year.
Although there are electric aircraft prototypes being flown in the state today, the development of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport as an electric aircraft site is looking years into the future as WSDOT is still in the beginning stages of the project.
Brandon Rakes, Chehalis-Centralia Airport’s operations coordinator, said that it’s important to have conversations about electric aircraft early and to begin getting prepared for the future of aviation locally.
The WSDOT Electric Aircraft Feasibility Study, completed in November 2020, provides an assessment of the transportation network, workforce consideration, planning and infrastructure requirements and environmental and economic impacts.
The study also outlined the possible benefits of further development of electric aircraft technology. The new technology has the potential to increase affordable air travel — leading to economic growth, supporting jobs and creating new business revenues. The study also forecasts a reduction in aviation emissions and noise if electric aircraft begin to replace combustion-powered aircraft.
The six beta test sites recommended by WSDOT Aviation Division are located in Chehalis, Moses Lake, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane and Yakima. Some factors that went into choosing the beta test sites included the availability of a 3,000-foot runway, connectivity to other airports and availability of jet fuel for hybrid aircraft.
“Obviously the geographic location of Chehalis makes sense — right in between Portland and Seattle, right along I-5. I think that is one of the primary factors considered,” Rakes said.
WSDOT Aviation Planner Max Platts said that the beta test sites will set the foundation for the state to further understand the benefits of electric aviation. One of the future steps in the project is to secure funding to develop the electric aircraft infrastructure in the selected communities.
The WSDOT Aviation Division is continuing to “pursue stakeholder engagement and advocate for airport planning initiatives to help position the state to take advantage of this new and exciting aviation technology,” Platts said.
“Beta test site airports, WSDOT Aviation, manufacturers and policymakers all have a role to play in cultivating that network — from including electric aircraft infrastructure in local planning efforts, to making resources available to ensure those needs can be met,” Platts said.
Companies located in Washington state, such as magniX and Eviation, are making strides in the development of electric aircrafts. AeroTECH, an in-state flight testing firm, is currently conducting flight tests and working toward certification of electric aircraft by 2023. The inaugural flight of magniX’s all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan 208B was conducted at AeroTECH in Moses Lake in May 2020.
Rakes said that he doesn’t expect much change in the footprint of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport as this project advances — just a change in the types of aircraft using the local airport.
“This is going to be a next-generation airport setup where you’re going to have the traditional airport but you’ll also have that infrastructure in place for advanced air mobility,” Rakes said. “If we don’t have a local commitment to it then we would not be able to expect this to really come together for the community, but I think once we are able to show people the benefits of this and how it can positively impact our lives, then I think we will embrace this technology.”
Embracing this next chapter of aviation locally could put the community ahead of others in the state, Rakes said.
“We all have a vested interest in this in the community, so that’s where planning ahead on this makes a lot of sense. The technology is advancing quickly, so we need to get the infrastructure prepared for when this happens,” Rakes said.
Those interested in learning more about electric aircraft can contact Rakes at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport at firstname.lastname@example.org.