More travelers are flying in and out of Yakima

The increase in passengers has led Alaska Airlines to add a 2nd daily flight to Seattle.

By Mai Hoang / Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA — Although the Yakima Air Terminal’s financial prospects have slowly improved in recent months, a full recovery could still be months or even years away, an airport official says.

Still, there was some good news for local travelers Saturday when Alaska Airlines resumed a second daily flight between Yakima and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Alaska Airlines reinstated the flight after an increase in passengers from the Yakima airport over the last few months. The Seattle-based airline dropped from three or four flights a day to one a day in April after a drastic drop in passengers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, 249 passengers boarded flights in Yakima, according to airport figures. Boardings increased to 438 and 909 in May and June, respectively.

During the first half of 2020, 17,640 passengers boarded Alaska Airlines flights in Yakima, a 47% drop from the same period in 2019.

Other revenue generators tied to air travel — including parking and rental cars — also have decreased.

As of June 30, the airport’s cumulative revenue was just over $609,000, a decrease of nearly 15% from the same period in 2019, according to figures from its owner, the city of Yakima.

The Yakima Air Terminal was able to secure a $1.286 million grant through the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus relief program. The money is distributed as reimbursement for qualified operating and expenditures, including payroll, utilities and debt payments, through the end of 2021.

So far, the grant is expected to last long enough to cover expenses for 16 to 17 months, and the money could last longer as the airport continues to see an increase in revenues from commercial airline and general aviation activity, said airport manager Rob Peterson.

Even so, some travel industry experts are not expecting activity to be at pre-coronavirus levels for two to three years, Peterson said.

“We’re definitely watching our expenses at the airport.”

As more people are starting to fly again, the airport is expanding its health and sanitization efforts, Peterson added. It has secured 12,500 masks from FEMA for distribution to passengers. But generally, most travelers have worn their own masks, Peterson said.

Flights from Yakima to Seattle depart at 5:35 a.m. and 11:10 a.m. daily. The corresponding flights from Seattle depart at 9:45 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.

Main runway project

The airport will close its main runway, also known as Runway 9-27, from Aug. 24-29 for a major rehabilitation project.

The airport received additional CARES Act funding for the project. Typically, it would have to cover 10% of the total cost. But the CARES Act included a provision where the Federal Aviation Administration would cover the entire cost of more than $1.4 million.

The project includes new energy-efficient lighting, asphalt crack sealing and updated markings to meet FAA standards.

General aviation flights and smaller aircraft will be able to use the shorter crosswind runway, which will be open for most of the project, Peterson said. Alaska Airlines will not be able to fly in or out of the airport during the interim because its planes need a longer runway.

Since the closure was scheduled in advance, Peterson said, there should be minimal interruptions as any booked flights should have long been rescheduled. There is no means to book new flights during the runway closure, he said.

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