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Jeff Ackerman | Pangborn’s impact is great, but its value is much more than just dollars

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Behind a battle cry of “Fly Wenatchee,” Pangborn Memorial Airport plays a central role in the economic and social vitality of our community.

Owned jointly by the ports of Douglas and Chelan counties, Pangborn was named after Clyde Pangborn, who in 1931 became the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Pacific Ocean. He and his co-pilot Hugh Herdon Jr. took off from Japan and intended to land in Seattle, but fog forced them east and they basically belly-flopped onto a field above East Wenatchee, after more than 41 hours in the air.

Most of you who have lived here more than five minutes knew that already, but Pangborn’s biography reads like a Hollywood script. What an amazing life he had.

More than 10,000 commercial passengers pass through Pangborn each month (roughly 5,000 on and 5,000 off) through three to four connecting flights to Seattle. Alaska/Horizon added a fourth daily flight in May that will run through most of August and if enough passengers take advantage of it, the airline will likely bring it back next spring.

Airport officials are also hoping to convince an airline (and federal government) to add a direct flight to the San Francisco Bay Area — either Oakland or San Francisco — in the next few months.

Alaska Airlines has given the greater Wenatchee Valley the opportunity to show its support for additional air service with its recent addition of a fourth flight,” said Airport Director Trent Moyers. “We would like to encourage our residents to take advantage of this increased capacity. Fly Wenatchee whenever possible.”

Those flight have been more than 80 percent full, according to recent statistics released by the airport.

Other airport economic indicators can be found in car rentals, fuel sales and parking.

Budget, Enterprise and Hertz car rental companies all operate through Pangborn, generating more than $70,000 in combined monthly revenue. More than $1.2 million was spent on rental cars through the airport last year, according to activity reports through April.

A good percentage of those vehicles were likely used for business purposes. 

Fuel — both jet and regular aviation fuel — is also a good economic indicator. Pangborn pumped nearly 118,000 gallons of jet fuel and another 34,000 gallons of regular aviation fuel last year, and is trending 49 percent higher than the previous year, according to statistics provided by the airport.

Airport officials say there are a large number of private jets that fly in and out of the airport each month.

The airport also generates nearly a half million dollars in annual parking revenue, according to the recent data. Pangborn receives a percentage of that revenue, with the minimum guarantee of $138,000 each year.

Pangborn is one of 138 public airports in 37 of Washington’s 39 counties. The Washington State Department of Transportation Aviation Division has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration to update an economic impact study to:

  • Assess the economic value that airports create for communities.
  • Measure the economic impacts of each public use airport in Washington state.

The study — expected to be released by the end of 2019 — will update a 2012 analysis of Washington’s airports that found the state’s airports:

  • Employed more than 248,000 people, with a combined payroll of $15.3 billion.
  • Were responsible for $791 million in tax revenue.
  • Contributed $548 million to the state’s general fund.
  • Contributed more than $240 million in tax revenue to various local municipalities.

The study concludes that the most important contributions, especially from the smaller airports such as Pangborn, “do not come in the form of jobs, wages and output. Rather, their contribution comes from how the  facilities and services support economic activity in the communities they serve and how individual users derive benefits from having access to aviation services.”