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Renton airport plan still in flux

City awaiting approval of new design

By Emily Garland
Reporter Newspapers

Some Mercer Island and Renton residents are probably heaving a sigh of relief that Renton Municipal Airport won’t likely host a proposed corporate aviation or jet center anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean more jets aren’t coming.

Boeing told the city last fall that it plans to request the chunk of land back known as Apron B: five aircraft positions, and that it will likely use this land to test its Renton-built Next-Generation 737s, as it does now on the airport’s Apron A.

Boeing has yet to officially ask for Apron B back, airport manager Ryan Zulauf said, and he’s unsure how long the company would want to lease the land. But Zulauf is happy to have the city’s largest employer expand its presence at the airport.

“They are one of the three biggest aircraft manufacturing companies in the entire world,” Zulauf said. “It’s a no-brainer that we want to keep them.”

Boeing’s 737 program set its third sales record in a row in 2007, with 846 airplanes sold. The plane is the best-selling single aisle-jetliner, with more than 4,400 ordered.

Boeing’s proposed lease of Apron B would help the company and Renton reap even more of that success.

“We are here for The Boeing Co.,” Zulauf said. “We always have been and probably always will be.”

Boeing has leased Apron B since World War II, Zulauf said. The aerospace company gave back the land unofficially in 2003 and officially in 2007. The land is now vacant. There simply isn’t room for a jet center if Boeing takes back that land, he explained.

A corporate aviation center was one of five airport layout plans proposed to the city by a private consultant. Renton’s city council never selected a plan. If the jet center had been approved, the now-vacant Apron B would serve as tie-down space. The center would have taken up most of the six acres of Apron C, just north of the airport’s control tower, currently a tie-down area.

The Renton council sent back the three jet center proposals to the submitting companies.

The $130,000 noise study that Mercer Island and Renton agreed to fund in March has also been suspended, Zulauf said. According to Linda Herzog, Mercer Island’s special project’s consultant, there is no indication that Renton’s intentions for the airport still include facilities or services to attract jet traffic.

Renton cannot approve the new layout plan until Mercer Island amends the noise study agreement, and the Island Council is expected to amend their agreement after Boeing’s commitment to the deal is in writing, said Rich Conrad, Mercer Island’s city manager.

If Boeing resumes leasing Apron B, the company will pay the airport about $104,000 a year, Zulauf said. That’s more than the approximately $60,000 a year that would be generated from the space if it were used as tie-down space, but less than the expected revenue for a corporate aviation center, which would have created an estimated $4 million fund balance by 2017.

Still, any money going to the facility is welcome revenue for the self-sustaining airport, said Michael O’Halloran, Renton Airport Advisory Committee (RAAC) chair.

Boeing also recently indicated that it would likely hold onto four acres on the east side of the airport until 2010, Zulauf said, adding that he thought the company would be ditching.

“I say welcome back,” O’Halloran said of Boeing. “They provide great jobs, as we all know, and we all like those.”

O’Halloran said he has not heard much feedback on the quashing of the jet center, except from people monitoring the issue.

“They’re happy with the decision of not having facilities that cater to jets,” he said of those he has heard from.

O’Halloran and the rest of RAAC will vote at a Feb. 19 meeting to approve or reject a new airport layout plan reflecting Boeing’s intended request. Mercer Island is represented by a voting member on the RAAC, Elliot Newman.

“The new plan is pretty generic,” Zulauf said. “Kind of back to more of a status-quo plan.”

The B ramp will be zoned for aircraft manufacturing, in light of Boeing’s expected lease, and Apron C will be left open for general aviation use. Apron C’s use will be market, not city-driven, Zulauf said.

As always, Renton Municipal Airport has many changes ahead.

“All I can say is it’s a very interesting time for the airport,” Zulauf said.

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