AOPA, local pilots meet to protect Vista Field

June 3, 2009

vista Courtesy of Don Clayhold.

The fate of Vista Field hangs in the balance. On one side, the city of Kennewick, Wash., would like to see Vista Field closed and sold to developers. On the other side, local pilots have banded together with the help of AOPA and the Washington Pilots Association to save the airport. And recommendations from the state’s Long-Term Air Transportation Study (LATS), scheduled to be released July 1, may tip the scale toward stronger protections of Vista Field.

AOPA Senior Director of Airports Heidi Williams traveled to Washington State last week to meet with local pilots and officials to discuss strategies for saving Vista Field. She also attended the final meeting of the state’s aviation planning council before the council submits its recommendations from the LATS study to the governor.

“AOPA is committed to working closely with local pilots and members of the Washington Pilots Association on the continued protection of Vista Field and other airports within the state of Washington,” Williams said. “With stronger grant assurances, we could help keep airports operating so they can meet the transportation needs of the state.”

Williams also met with Airport Support Network volunteer Marjy Leggett and AOPA member Don Clayhold. Leggett has led an effort to promote and protect Vista Field, recruiting pilots based at the field to speak out on the value of their airport and its economic impact on surrounding communities. Vista Field serves as home to businesses that have told the port and the city that they chose the locations because of the airport’s proximity.

The field is located within the city of Kennewick but is owned and operated by the Port of Kennewick. The city commissioned a study last year to look at alternatives for airport land–which included closing the airport. The port will make the final decision on the airport’s future, however. While it has recognized the value of the airport, it faces pressure from the city. The port has commented on the LATS study and awaits the final recommendations, which will be used to guide future aviation policy in the state.

One anticipated recommendation, the strengthening of grant assurances, would help protect airports that receive state funding, including Vista Field. State grants come with an agreement to keep recipient airports open to the flying public throughout the useful life of the grant-funded facilities. AOPA has urged the Washington Department of Transportation to enforce those agreements so that airports like Vista would stay open.