Aircraft are seen at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with Mt. Rainier in the background.

Aircraft are seen at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with Mt. Rainier in the background. (JBLM/Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) — Two sites in Pierce County, south of Tacoma, will be analyzed as a site for new passenger, cargo flight operations by 2040 to accommodate Sea-Tac overflow.

A new commercial airport built near Joint Base Lewis — McChord would be incompatible with the military’s aviation operations and mission-readiness requirements, a JBLM official told The News Tribune.

“All three proposed sites ... would disrupt fixed-wing and helicopter training and operational requirements,” JBLM spokesperson Joseph Piek recently wrote in a statement. “JBLM will continue to work closely with federal, state, county and city officials to ensure any proposed airport site doesn’t pose an adverse impact to missions at JBLM.”

The state’s Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission is examining sites for a potential new airport to serve increased passenger and cargo demand in Washington state.

The commission was assembled in 2019 and is tasked by the state Legislature with providing a list of possible sites for a new airport. That list is down to three — Thurston County Central, Pierce County East and Pierce County Central.

The Thurston County Central site is west of Yelm and overlaps JBLM territory, according to Warren Hendrickson, acting chair of the CACC. The Pierce County East site is south of Graham, and the Pierce County Central site is east of Roy. Both are near but don’t overlap JBLM.

There are two airfields on JBLM — one that houses Air Force aircraft and another with Army aircraft. Should a new airport be sited nearby, Hendrickson said, airspace analysis must occur to ensure there’s a safe separation between civil and military aircraft.

“The first and most important consideration would be the conflict in airspace requirements,” Hendrickson told The News Tribune recently.

For instance, military training routes would need to be adjusted if an airport was near JBLM. Those training routes are used for high-speed exercises in which pilots improve their tactical, low-altitude flying skills.

JBLM has a map, detailing areas where general aviation traffic is restricted over the military base for the safety of civilians, Piek wrote in an email. The Federal Aviation Administration also classifies JBLM as a “ No Drone Zone.”

“It is a lot of work, and the initial feedback we have received from the air traffic control experts is that it would be a very challenging, if not difficult, task to achieve and be successful,” Hendrickson said.

The commission is prohibited from recommending a site that is on or near a military installation that would negatively impact its ability to carry out missions, Hendrickson said. The commission must recommend a location by June.

The commission has not had direct conversations with JBLM, Hendrickson said, but he hopes there is a way to expand “the team” looking to address the state’s aviation capacity issues. The team should also include groups such as JBLM and the National Park Service.

“We need to expand the team to have a more inclusive discussion,” Hendrickson said.

Piek wrote in an email that a JBLM aviation division chief is a member of the commission. He’s been JBLM’s representative and is a non-voting member.

Over 500 people attended an anti-airport town hall Jan. 13 in Graham. Hendrickson presented an update on the airport selection process during a state House Transportation Committee meeting in January.

(c)2023 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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