Aviation - Multi-agency collaboration

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Multi-agency collaboration

WSDOT-managed airports often collaborate with multiple agencies to host rescure training, provide staging areas for wildland fire managment.

Performance analysis


WSDOT-managed airports provide critical staging areas for wildfire management in 2022

A wet spring in Washington delayed use of the state-managed airports for wildland fire fighting staging efforts until mid-August, however, as seasonal conditions changed, the summer fire season extended well into October.

Three state-managed airports closed to the public in 2022 to accommodate critical helibase staging operations for several large wildland fires:

  • The Lake Wenatchee State Airport was closed for two months to accommodate U.S. Forest Service managed staging operations for the White River Fire.
  • The Tieton State Airport closed for 18 days to support the U.S. Forest Service fire fighting efforts on the Goat Rocks Fire, which shared helibase locations with the Packwood Airport.
  • The Skykomish State Airport was closed for approximately 40 days to support fire fighting efforts at the Bolt Creek, Murphy Lake, and Loch Katrine fires.

Throughout the 2022 wildland fire season, the Methow Valley State Airport located in Winthrop (home of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Smokejumper Base) continued to play a critical national level role in fast-strike smokejumper base response efforts across several states.

In 2022, WSDOT Aviation continued to negotiate formal fee-based access approvals for helicopter staging operations at the state-managed airports. These land-use agreement formats provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources serve to bring in much-needed preservation and maintenance funds that can be used to support future helibase staging efforts.

For more information regarding state-managed airports or long range planning efforts and associated preservation objectives, visit WSDOT's airport planning page.

Columbia Helicopters of Aurora, Oregon stages their CH-47D Chinook and Fuel Tanker Truck at the Tieton State Airport
Columbia Helicopters of Aurora, Oregon stages their CH-47D Chinook and Fuel Tanker Truck at the Tieton State Airport supporting the Goat Rocks Forest fire located near Packwood. The Tieton State Airport provided alternate access in the summer of 2022 due to changing winds and heavy fire smoke that pushed the fire crews out of the Packwood Airport. Tieton State Airport also provides access for quick turnaround refueling operations as an essential need for helibase staging operations that allows crews to refuel faster and deliver critical water more frequently.


WSDOT and Commerce collaborate to address aviation fuel shortages

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for aviation fuel fell to all-time lows. In 2021, the sudden increase in commercial air travel and the busy wildfire season caused an unprecedented aviation fuel supply shortages across the western states.

The increased fuel demand and supply chain challenges required the State Department of Commerce's Emergency Support Function 12 (ESF12) response team to be activated. The ESF12—part of Washington State's emergency incident management system— consolidated fuel shortage response efforts in collaboration with Washington Military Department, WSDOT, U.S. Forest Service, State Department of Natural Resources and other federal, state, and local stakeholders.

WSDOT Aviation and the State Emergency Operations Center played a critical role by implementing the "ReadyOp" communication tool, which allowed wildfire fighting helibase managers and participating airports around the state to quickly communicate critical fuel shortage and delivery information to the ESF12, ensuring the team could direct fuel shipments to areas of highest need.

WSDOT continues to identify strategies to build resiliency and preparedness across the state's airport system.

WSDOT airports provide critical staging areas for wildland fire management

In 2021, WSDOT-managed airports once again served as critical staging areas for statewide wildland fire management efforts.

In particular, the Methow Valley State Airport supported emergency helicopter staging efforts for the Cedar Creek, Cub Creek 2, Delancy, and Muckamuck Wildland fires and provided access for emergency response teams from across the nation.

The Methow Valley State Airport remained open to the public during the busy fire season. Temporary flight restrictions over the fires and close coordination between fire response crews and WSDOT Aviation kept the airport and airspace operations safe. Thick, hazardous smoke in the morning limited flight operations mostly to afternoon missions. Methow Valley State Airport is home to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Smokejumper Base, which plays a critical role in faststrike firefighting response efforts. The Tieton State Airport—located at Rim Rock Lake near Naches— also played a vital role for wildland firefighting staging efforts and was closed to the public for over a month to allow response teams to battle the fast-spreading Schneider Springs Fire. Easton, Lake Wenatchee, Skykomish, and Stehekin airports also supported staging access for wildland fire management.

Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission considers expanding airport capacity

Over the course of 2021, the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC)—charged with making recommendations to increase aviation to accommodate air passenger service, air cargo operations and general aviation—made significant progress towards meeting its requirements. The CACC collaborated with several stakeholders to help establish its guiding principles of public benefit, economic feasibility, environmental responsibility, and social equity.

Feedback indicated that 44% of those surveyed favored adding aviation capacity and acknowledged that doing so would require funding and potentially create environmental impacts; 36% supported increased aviation capacity only if environmental impacts were mitigated, and 19% supported continued operating with the current airport facilities. The CACC identified the following airports as having potential capacity to expand:

Paine Field has potential for additional commercial passenger service and air cargo capacity;

Bremerton National Airport has potential for air cargo capacity and general aviation capacity; and

Arlington Municipal Airport, Sanderson Field, South Lewis County Airport, and Tacoma Narrows Airport all have potential for additional general aviation capacity.

The Washington Aviation System Plan update is running concurrent to the CACC's work and will provide new airport location options for consideration in 2022. The CACC's final recommendations are currently due in February 2023.


WSDOT airports provide collaborative training locales

WSDOT-managed airports hosted multiple agencies in 2020 for military, police, and rescue training activities.

The Tieton State Airport in Yakima County supported military mountain hoist training in June 2020 with the U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment from Yakima Training Center. They conducted hoist training in the area's mountainous terrain to simulate realistic scenarios, increase team efficiency and improve the effectiveness of interagency operations. The airport was also used for fueling operations to provide realistic hands-on experience for participants. Tieton State Airport also hosted forest firefighting staging operations in August 2020 that supported response efforts for the Cold Creek fire.

The Bandera State Airport in King County provided staging areas for helicopters that conducted construction lifting operations for the Puget Sound Emergency Radio Network tower installation project. State-managed airports provide critical staging areas to accommodate natural disaster response and training areas for military, law enforcement, and firefighting readiness. They also offer access to popular local recreational destinations for general aviation pilots and their passengers.

WSDOT completes Aircraft Electrification Study

The Washington Aircraft Electrification Study (completed in November 2020) identified many of the factors that will influence the adoption of electric aircraft. The study helps provide policy-makers, airport sponsors, industry and other stakeholders with a timeline for introducing electric aircraft into service as well as forecasting the demand for electric aircraft passenger service. It also identified workforce development needs and the environmental impacts of electric aircraft; finding that six airports were interested in focusing their planning efforts on becoming an electric aircraft beta test site.

Washington state is among the leaders in aviation innovation, with first flights of commercially viable electric aircraft taking place in British Columbia, Canada in 2019 and at Moses Lake in 2020. Electric aviation has the potential to connect communities in the state and region while reducing the impact of passenger and air cargo service on the environment. WSDOT is working to ensure airports and policy makers have the knowledge and tools to be ready to take advantage of this technology.

Fly Washington Passport Program taking off

The Fly Washington Passport Program promotes safety and education by encouraging pilots to visit Washington's public-use airports.

WSDOT launched the program in April 2019 to support general aviation airports, area businesses and tourism. It is a collaborative program administered jointly by WSDOT, City of Auburn, Auburn Municipal Airport, Washington Airport Management Association, Washington Pilots Association and the Port of Bremerton.

In 2020, nearly 2,000 pilots, passengers, and aviation enthusiasts participated in the program, up from approximately 1,000 in 2019. Participants said the program encouraged them to visit new locales via Washington's public-use airports. Sixteen participants have visited 100% of the 106 airports and seaplane bases included in the program.

Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission continues engagement

In 2019, the Washington State Legislature established the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission. WSDOT Aviation coordinates and administers the commission, in addition to offering technical assistance as requested by commission members. By January 1, 2022, the commission will develop recommendations to meet critical aviation system capacity needs in Washington state. The commission will recommend a location for a new airport as well as additional ways to accommodate capacity needs at other facilities.

The commission worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and continued to evaluate potential airport sites. Although the commission cannot meet in person due to physical distancing, members continued to receive briefing materials and workbooks to help them formulate screening criteria that could be used to assess the suitability of various airport sites. During this time, the commission also engaged local jurisdictions to determine interest in future expansion of their local airports.


Senate establishes Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission

In 2019, the state Legislature approved Substitute Senate Bill 5370, establishing a coordinating commission to identify the location for a new primary commercial aviation facility in Washington. Primary airports are defined as those which see more than 10,000 passengers a year.

The bill calls for three reporting dates to the state transportation committees:

  • A short list of six locations by January 1, 2021;
  • The top two locations from the six by September 1, 2021; and
  • A single preferred location by January 1, 2021.

The commission must also project a timeline for the development of a facility that is functional by 2040.

WSDOT Aviation is responsible for providing staff support to coordinate and administer the commission, offering technical support to commission members and hiring a consultant as resources allow. The initial commission meeting convened on October 30, 2019.

The commission includes 15 voting members (13 appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee) and 11 nonvoting members. The commission will review existing data and conduct research on the long-term commercial aviation facility needs, the feasibility of constructing a facility, and the potential environmental and economic impacts in each area considered.

Fly Washington Passport Program taking off

The Fly Washington Passport Program promotes safety and education by encouraging pilots to take to the skies and visit Washington's public-use airports. The program—a collaborative effort of WSDOT Aviation Division, the City of Auburn, Auburn Municipal Airport, the Washington Airport Management Association, Washington Pilots Association, and the Port of Bremerton—also supports general aviation airports, area businesses, and tourism.

Licensed pilots from any state and their passengers can participate and earn levels of recognition and awards as they explore the airports of Washington state. The program relies on the voluntary participation of Washington's public-use airports, pilots, aviation enthusiasts, and sponsors.

Over 1,000 pilots, passengers, and aviation enthusiasts participate in the program, which has generated excitement in the aviation community as pilots have said it has encouraged them to visit new airports. The program launched in April 2019 with 106 airports and seaplane bases participating. Since that time, three individuals in Washington have visited 100% of the participating airports.


WSDOT Aviation collaboratively designs, builds visitor kiosk

WSDOT held a kiosk design competition in 2017 to help improve public outreach efforts at airports across Washington. The winning design was chosen by the public and the first airport kiosk was finished in Lynden. To view photos of the kiosks, visit http://bit.ly/avikiosk. For more information about the kiosks, visit https://www.wsaa.aero/ kioskcompetition.

The kiosks will also be the home of the Fly Washington Passport Program stamp if the airport chooses. The Fly Washington Program is an incentive program that encourages pilots and aviation enthusiasts to explore Washington's public-use airports and collect stamps in their passport booklet. It is a joint effort between the City of Auburn, Washington Airport Management Association, Washington Pilots Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and WSDOT. The program launches in February 2019 at the Northwest Aviation Conference and Trade Show in Puyallup.

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