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Washington DOT Designates Electric Aircraft Testbeds

The Yakima Air Terminal and others have been chosen as a beta test sites for the aircraft, according to the state’s Department of Transportation. The announcement comes after two years of study with industry stakeholders.

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(TNS) — The Washington State Department of Transportation has designated Yakima Air Terminal as a beta test site for electric aircraft.

The Yakima airport was identified as one of six test sites in a feasibility study published by the agency's aviation division last month. For the past two years, WSDOT and aviation industry stakeholders have explored setting up electric aircraft service in the state.

Other beta test sites are Chehalis-Centralia airport in Chehalis, Olympia Regional; Boeing Field/King County International in Seattle, Felts Field in Spokane and Grant Country International in Moses Lake.

The study also outlines 15 different airports, including the six beta test sites, that could form the initial system for electric aircraft. Among that second group of airports is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco.

According to the study, electric and hybrid electric aircraft manufacturers expect that at least 20 planes will be in service by 2030, with more than a dozen more in development. The plan includes strictly electric aircraft with a capacity for up to 19 passengers and hydroelectric 70-passenger aircraft and light cargo planes.

"This is a pivotal point in aviation history," said airport manager Rob Peterson. "Yakima has an opportunity to be part of that pivotal point in aviation history."

LOWER COSTS

Such planes use less or no jet fuel, which would lessen the overhead costs. Lower costs could potentially open new passenger and cargo routes to and from Yakima, Peterson said.

In the past several decades, airlines have focused on routes with high boarding percentages, upward of 70% or more. In 2008, Delta Air Lines ended service from Yakima to Salt Lake City, citing high jet fuel prices that made the route financially unsustainable.

With a plane that uses less or no fuel, additional routes between Yakima and destinations throughout the Northwest may become financially sustainable, Peterson said.

"You can lower that cost per passenger and allow (operation of) that route," he said.

He said such aircraft might also offer an additional transportation option for cargo that might otherwise be transported by land. "This would open up the opportunity to free up congestion on the ground and expedite packages from point A to point B."

Most importantly, the widespread use of electric aircraft may prompt economic growth. Peterson said Yakima could potentially be a site to service planes or serve as a hub for cargo services.

But first, the state is aiming to use the beta test sites as a system to test the functionality of electric aircraft technology. Sites were chosen on several factors, including the availability of a 3,000-foot runway, connectivity to airports within 500 nautical miles, existing on-airport aerospace manufacturing and an ideal geographic location.

Peterson said he anticipates that manufacturers will fly to Yakima and the other sites to test their aircraft in the next several years. Such tests will allow airports to determine what they need to support such aircraft. One possibility is the installation of a charger or solar panels to help power up the aircraft.

The WSDOT feasibility study anticipates a sizable increase in service in the early 2030s. The working group has made a goal to fully integrate electric aircraft at all of the state's airports by 2050.

©2020 Yakima Herald-Republic, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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