Retired pilot questions proposed locations for South Sound airport

Calls for a new airport in western Washington increased after the holidays brought major delays and cancellations, both across the country and at Sea-Tac Airport.

Captain Robert Major, a retired FedEx pilot, has critiqued locations in Pierce and Thurston counties — not because of political or environmental reasons, but because he says the proposed sites are just not safe to fly in and out of.

Major said that the Pierce County locations would not allow for safe takeoffs and landings, since he believes some aircraft wouldn’t be able to clear mountains and hills, and flight paths would intersect with each other in the region.

Major does believe there are several alternate sites that could work. Some lawmakers also say the selection process has been flawed because it excluded King County and existing military bases — Major actually believes making part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord a joint civilian and military airport would be a better choice.

He also believes that any airport that’s built in Washington needs to account for the next generation of aircraft.

“$25 billion for this new airport, which by the time it’s done 30 years from now is probably going to be more like $75 billion in today’s dollars,” Major said. “The aircraft that are going to be flying by the time that this airport complex would be built are vastly different from what you see today. Just think back 35, 40 years ago, what airplanes were like.”

Major says JBLM does have a model to follow, since he says in the continental US there are two dozen joint-use airfields. He also thinks the airport at Arlington and another airfield in Skagit County — Skagit Bay View — could be sites in the north.

The Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission was the group that proposed the sites in Pierce and Thurston counties.

A House bill now under consideration would replace the current commission with a new workgroup. Major believes a new group could bring new ideas for sites, especially if pilots or aviation experts are on the commission.