PULLMAN — Horizon Air is encouraging Seattle-bound passengers to fly through Spokane when the existing runway at the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport closes to prepare for the introduction of a new runway in early October.

Airplanes won’t be arriving or departing from the airport for about one month starting Sept. 8 so crews can finish constructing the new, longer runway in a $154 million project that started in 2016.

The replacement runway will open to general aviation Oct. 4. Flights for Alaska Airlines subsidiary Horizon Air, the airport’s only commercial carrier, are scheduled to resume Oct. 11.

Alaska Airlines scheduled more Spokane-Seattle flights during the Pullman airport shutdown, said Pullman airport Executive Director Tony Bean.

Passengers enrolled in the Alaska Mileage Plan will get double miles when they travel between the two Washington cities.

That’s just one of the measures aimed at easing the burden for travelers. The Pullman airport is waiving its $5-per-day parking fee, and the Wheatland Express bus line is adding a shuttle that goes back and forth between the airports in Spokane and Pullman (See story below).

Alaska Airlines chose to funnel customers through Spokane even though the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport is closer because Alaska Airlines already has employees and equipment in Spokane, he said.

“We have to support the carrier we have,” Bean said.

The closure has been scheduled to be just long enough for crews to complete tasks that can’t happen when planes are landing or taking off, he said. A large share of that work is in the safety zone of the old runway. That includes putting down two layers of pavement on a portion of the new runway, building permanent and temporary taxiways for the new runway, installing underground culverts to divert Airport Creek and constructing stormwater retention basins. Runway lighting also needs to be installed.

The old runway will be demolished to prevent pilots from getting mixed up and accidentally using it.

“We’re going to have people working almost around the clock,” Bean said.

As challenging as the temporary closure will be, he said it is a necessary step in completing a project that will significantly improve service.

The new runway is 7,100 feet long, compared to the existing runway of 6,730 feet. The extra length, along with a new instrument landing system being installed by the Federal Aviation Administration, will make it possible for planes to land in conditions that would force them to divert to other airports now, Bean said.

Flight cancellations are expected to be far less frequent.

“We’ll have one or two (in a winter month),” he said. “We won’t have 50 of them, (like we did last winter).”

Mark Wray, a pilot who oversees Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories’ fleet of four jets in Pullman, agrees with Bean about the benefits of the upgrade.

SEL predicts it will land in Lewiston instead of Pullman 10 times or fewer in the coming winter, compared with the 20 times that have been the norm in past years.

“We are very excited about the improvement here in Pullman,” Wray said. “We are looking forward to when it opens.”

More upgrades will follow in the next two years, once the new runway is operating. Temporary taxiways will be replaced with permanent ones that couldn’t be finished until the new runway opened because they were in the footprint of the old runway.

Getting this far is a testimony to the commitment of a number of entities on the Palouse to a project that has taken more than a decade to execute, Bean said. Among them are municipalities, the private sector, Washington State University and the University of Idaho. They supported the upgrade when planning started in 2006 and have continued to back it, most importantly with financial contributions to cover the 8 percent of the cost not paid for by the F.A.A.

The cities of Moscow and Pullman provided $2.5 million each. The Washington State Department of Transportation’s aviation department is granting $1.5 million. Beatrice and Edmund O. Schweitzer III contributed $1 million, in addition to the $1 million SEL donated. WSU gave $1 million too.

Latah County, the Port of Whitman and UI made smaller contributions.

“They stayed the course, which is incredibly difficult,” Bean said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

Recommended for you