Renton officials bury jet center idea

The proposed idea for a corporate jet center at the Renton Airport fell flat last week while a proposal to add a seaplane maintenance facility on the northwest corner of the airport left some lingering concerns about future scheduled flights over the Island.

Last Tuesday, Renton officials told members of the Renton Airport Advisory Committee, or RAAC, it had withdrawn the corporate jet center from any future consideration as a use at the Renton Airport. The airport now plans to lease the space to the Boeing Co.

A systems manager from Kenmore Airlines was also at the meeting last week. Todd Banks, from Kenmore Air, discussed the local seaplane company’s plans to build a maintenance facility at the Renton Airport before the RAAC. According to Newman, Banks assured RAAC members that Kenmore Air does not plan to have passenger service out of the Renton Airport.

“That helped calm some people down,” said Elliot Newman, Mercer Island’s representative on the RAAC, “because it was a pretty definitive statement.”

In a telephone interview on Monday, Banks said the company wants to increase its maintenance capabilities at the Renton Airport but does not intend to change its passenger service.

“We run passengers out of Lake Union and Boeing Field,” Banks said, “and we don’t have any plans to change any of that.”

Land plane operations, mostly turbo-props, going into Renton for maintenance make up most of what Kenmore does at Renton today, Banks said. The company also sells floats and is looking to do installation of floats at the new maintenance facility. In all, Banks said the new facility would be a maintenance base capable of installing avionics and floats as well as repairs.

That would produce an additional one or two operations a day at the airport, Banks said. The maintenance facility is needed because Kenmore’s service branch, called Kenmore/Edo, has a waiting list of two years, Banks said. The new facility would help reduce that waitlist. De Havilland Beaver sea planes are becoming very popular, and Kenmore specializes in their service.

“We have a lot of customers in Alaska and all over the United States,” Banks said. “It’s like the Harley Davidson for pilots. Harrison Ford bought one. Kenny G bought one.”

Renton city councilmember Marcie Palmer said last week that the current Renton city council is adamantly against having scheduled flights at the airport but there is always the possibility a future council could change that position. She also said Kenmore has stated from the beginning its plans are for a maintenance facility.

While Kenmore is seeking additional space for maintenance operations, the focus of the meeting last week was on the representatives from Boeing. Specific details of Boeing’s plans were not given to RAAC members, which is composed of several airport stakeholders, city officials, Renton residents and Newman. Boeing officials said the company is going to submit a formal request in the near future to the Renton city council to lease additional space at the airport for its 737 program.

Renton officials, including Palmer, who is the chair of Renton’s transportation and aviation committee, have pledged to honor Boeing’s proposal. Newman said Boeing officials also said they would continue their good neighbor policies at the airport to reduce its noise pollution.

Last month, Cristina McHugh, a Boeing spokesperson, confirmed the company’s plans to lease another section of the airport. The company currently uses the largest section, Apron A, for its 737 program.

A decision to continue or abandon the $130,000 noise study will be determined during subsequent RAAC meetings, said Newman. The noise study is currently on hold.

“A few members of the RAAC thought the study should be done regardless,” he said. “But others, including myself, don’t think tax dollars should be spent studying the current status. That’s the way we’ve lived here for 50 years. At this stage, it would be a waste of money.”

Nearly one year ago, the corporate jet center was on pace to be approved by the Renton city council, but a political upheaval against it began in the weeks following a shutdown of Boeing Field. Dozens of jets and other aircraft which typically use Boeing Field were directed to Renton Airport for about two weeks, rattling Mercer Island and Renton homes during all hours of a day.

The heavy air traffic in August 2006 also led to the three bids for the corporate jet center to be put under lock and key until a noise study was completed and five airport designs evaluated.

Diane Paholke, whose aviation business, ProFlight, is based at the Renton Airport, submitted one of the three bids to operate out of the proposed corporate jet center. Paholke is also on the RAAC. Paholke said she couldn’t comment on how the decision to nix the jet center will affect her company but said she will begin assessing that immediately.

“We are going to be evaluating what is to be done now,” Paholke said last Wednesday, the day after the meeting. “We are reviewing what was said to us last night and are going to do an assessment.”

While the latest developments may have come as a surprise, Palmer said the best use of the Renton Airport is to accommodate Boeing, even though it kills half a decade of planning in an instant.

“This makes the RAAC and city throw out the last five years of work, but we had to change things when Boeing announced it was not renewing its lease a few years ago,” Palmer said. “We’ve been here before.”

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