Airport master plan nears completion

Within the next two decades, the Friday Harbor Airport is looking at modifying the airstrip, building a new terminal and adding vehicle parking.

The changes are part of the airport’s 20-year master plan study, which is nearing completion.

The planning advisory committee held its fourth and final meeting regarding the document on March 5, followed by a public information workshop.

“What we planned is a first-class entrance to the community. It is a door to Friday Harbor,” said Patrick Taylor of Coffman Associates, an aviation consulting firm. “A lot of people come here this way – by air – so you have an opportunity here to really enhance that.”

A final draft should be released in two weeks, Taylor said. The study, which was estimated to be completed in a year, has taken 19 months.

The last report was created in 2015, but the port staff was tasked with revising it after the Federal Aviation Administration reclassified the airport’s size to accommodate planes with wider wingspans.

Port of Friday Harbor Executive Director Todd Nicholson said that in 2014, the airport was classified as B2 with a 156-foot separation between the runway and taxiway. Now the FAA is requiring a 240-foot distance.

“Really, that’s what’s driving this whole process,” he said.

Airport size categories are dependent on the wingspan of aircraft that the facility accommodates. Because the Friday Harbor Airport is home to eight Cessna Caravans and gets more than 500 flights annually, it needs to be retrofitted. It also opens the port up to more funding opportunities from the FAA.

“If you get over 10,000 [passengers], the airport receives an entitlement from the FAA for development funds of $1 million. So it’s a pretty key number. This number [of annual riders] is pretty safely above 10,000 — it has been for several years,” Taylor said, adding that if an airport’s patronage is below 10,000 people, it only receives $150,000. “It’s the responsibility of the airport sponsor to do their best to meet the design standards.”

The proposal

Taylor presented forecast revisions to the three originally proposed alternatives. The first alternative was chosen by the committee in an earlier meeting maintains the existing runway length and orientation while gradually improving the airport to meet the FAA’s standards. The study provides guidance for projects for which the port could request funding from federal and state airport improvement programs. The potential projects are based on aviation demand forecasts, meeting federal design standards, pavement maintenance and facility needs.

All three alternatives included widening the distance between the runway and taxiway to meet FAA guidelines.

As a result of expanding the distance between the runway and taxiway, the airport is looking at losing space on the commercial apron — a staging area often referred to as the tarmac — and encroaching on the existing terminal building.

A solution for this is to develop land to the southwest of the runway and build a new terminal. There’s also a need for visitor apron space, more vehicle parking and additional hangars.

“So when we’re putting together a plan, we’re looking at all these pieces where we know we need something and trying to fit all those pieces into the long-range plan for the airport,” Taylor said.

He emphasized that though the airport could likely see a lot of changes over the next 20 years, the rural character would not change.

“Y’all kinda like the way your airport is. We’d all like to see it meet the design standards that apply to it today. I think we kind of struck a balance here in terms of plans for the airport and the type of airplanes that can operate in and out of here,” Taylor said. “This is probably one of the biggest and most restrictive design standards that you’ll ever see at this airport on this footprint.”

Cost of changes

The projects outlined in the master plan total more than $25 million. Taylor said that the FAA will likely pay for 90 percent of that amount with grants and that the Washington State Department of Transportation would possibly pay an additional 5 percent, leaving the airport responsible for the remainder.

“The real issue is, can we afford the match? We operate at about a $350,000-a-year deficit that we fund from marina operations,” Nicholson said. “That’s why from the beginning of this I’ve been really, really trying to put forth the need for that revenue support land-use piece. That’s the difference between, ‘this can’t get done for four years because we can’t afford it’ or ‘we get it done in 20 years on schedule.’ It all has to do with that non-aviation revenue support piece and that’s the key to the puzzle. Period. Just the way the math works.”

The land-use piece mentioned by Nicholson refers to undeveloped areas on the airport property that could be used for nonaviation-related purposes — including laboratories, manufacturing and processing, research offices, warehouses and other operations compatible with an airport environment. Leasing land could generate profits for the airport to put toward construction goals.

“At the end of the day, … this airport does not survive without FAA funding. We cannot exist,” Nicholson said. “The way to maintain FAA funding is to meet FAA standards. There is no debating [it], that’s just the deal. That’s just the way it is.”

For info about the Friday Harbor Airport’s master plan, visit