PULLMAN, Wash. (Murrow News 8) – Before flying south back home to Texas, Andrew Poulton drives 80 miles north to Spokane International Airport.
It’s called Airport Leakage. A phenomenon where local residents leave their regional airports for the perks and benefits of a larger city nearby.
“It comes down to the cost and where I’m flying. [Spokane International] has better options and the better price,” Poulton said.
Pullman-Moscow Regional (PUW) Airport Director Tony Bean knows it all too well. A study conducted by Mead & Hunt engineering and architecture firm reports PUW retains about 34 percent of local passengers. That measures out to 322 passengers a day according to Bean – good for over 115,000 a year.
“We’re always going to leak to a Spokane, because it’s a bigger market and the options are there. We’re trying to lessen how much that is,” Bean said.
PUW realigned their runway in 2019 to accommodate for larger aircraft. Their next project is a brand-new terminal. Between the two, they hope to attract new flights. As it currently stands, PUW’s only flight goes to and from Seattle.
PUW’s current terminal is severely undersized according to Mead & Hunt Architect Tim Dacey. The project is still in the design phase, but both Dacey and Bean say PUW needs a 45,000 square foot terminal today. The current facility is only 8,000.
The project is expected to cost 42 million dollars according to Bean. With the design phase wrapping up at the end of 2021, Bean says the new terminal could be finished by the end of 2022 or early 2023.
Courtesy of grant and local money, Bean also says a startup service with United Airlines to Denver is in the works.
“If we get to Denver, that will slow down our leakage,” Bean said.
“I usually fly out of Denver if I go anywhere outside Washington. Getting another big airport connection, that would almost guarantee that I fly out of Pullman,” Poulton said.
As for patching future leaks down the road, Bean has already had his eye on Boise for the past decade.
“It’s the center of Idaho and hard to get to,” Bean said. “With Pullman-Moscow, you gotta go to Seattle then you can go to Boise. If you drive to Spokane, there’s a direct flight. Which one are you gonna use?”