Study will examine Puget Sound’s airport needs as population growth continues

SEATTLE - The population of the Puget Sound area sits at just under 4 million people, and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) is expected that number to go up by 40% in the next 30 years, projecting a population of 5.8 million by 2050.

The PSRC has launched a Regional Baseline Aviation Study, funded by a $1.6 million-dollar grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. This two-year study is intended to provide a clear picture of the region’s aviation system (King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties) and form the technical foundation for future decisions by regional and state leaders.

Everywhere you look, there is no doubt the Puget Sound region is growing, with about 4 million people living in the area now.

In the next 30 years, “We have a high level of confidence that our region’s population will increase by 40%,” said Josh Brown, Executive Director of the PSRC.

That’s 1.8 million more people, and with traffic already backed up, the council is looking at what that growth will do to the enormous aviation needs of our region.

“This is the largest project we’ve had with the FAA in a long time,” said Brown.

Brown says the study will look at Puget Sound’s 29 airports and will identify the roles of each airport and the aviation activities within the region. It will provide a regional perspective on how aviation activities at airports in the study area interact with each other, the community and the broader economy.

The study will obtain input from stakeholders about their needs and build a common understanding about aviation and airspace constraints; it will also identify future aviation needs within the central Puget Sound region and set the stage for future planning.

“We’re going to evaluate what they do to solve the problem for needs in the future,” said Brown. He added that Sea-Tac Airport, for example, sees about 50 million passengers each year in what is now the nation’s eighth busiest airport.

“We’ve all noticed the airports are busier, the lines for security are busier, there are a lot more people in the concourse,” said Brown. Add that 40 percent population growth and the question becomes what are the assets and limitations for a facility like this.

“How much capacity is on the ground. If you build terminals, add gates, build cargo facilities, add new hangars for general aviation. How much could you do at airports that exist today,” said Brown.

Then there are smaller airports which could be looked at to meet the needs of future fliers.

“We’ve been to Arlington which has about 1,000 undeveloped acres around Arlington Municipal airport, and that could be an airport that in terms of general aviation that really serves a greater set of uses in the future,” said Brown.

Places like Paine Field are starting to alleviate travel hassles for people living in the north end, an area that’s seen exponential growth in the past few years.

“The role of airports may evolve in the future,” said Brown.

The first of the study’s data will be released this summer and it is expected to be completed in 2020.

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