Airport drops certification

A bleak outlook for commercial air service in South Kitsap County has led Bremerton National Airport to send back its FAA certification.

The move, although merely a matter of paperwork for all intents and purposes, could end up saving the Port of Bremerton, which oversees the airport, between $50,000 and $150,000 annually, particularly after the port transfers managerial control of its fueling depot to a private interest and completes the staff reorganization currently in the planning stages.

Much of the money savings comes from the elimination of policies and programs made necessary by the certification.

For example, airport staff had to inspect all the pavement surfaces, safety areas and lights on the airfield every day in order to maintain certification.

Without the certification, these inspections will only need to be done on a weekly basis.

“There’s a whole litany of inspections the FAA requires,” said airport operations manager Fred Salisbury. “(Now) we’re out there more than once a week, but someone will be out there with a checklist every week.”

For certification, the airport also needed to maintain an Aircraft Rescue Firefighting (ARF) unit in case a commercial airplane crashed or caught fire. The eight maintenance workers who made up the team required constant training updates, crash drills and testing to make sure the unit was up to FAA specifications. The 1980s-vintage crash response vehicle also needed regular maintenance and inspection. In addition, a Fire District 7 volunteer firefighting station was maintained on port property as a second-response hub.

Now, the port can either store or sell off its aging crash truck and rely entirely on the district for fire coverage. The volunteer station at the airport and a second station in Sunnyslope will serve the airport, as will the staffed district station in Gorst. The former ARF team will be encouraged to join the district’s volunteer firefighters if they want to continue in emergency service.

“We’ll be re-educating our crews on the possibility of that,” said Port CEO Ken Attebery, adding that the team has always had the opportunity to join the volunteer department and that many have served the district in previous years.

The fire district was a little surprised to hear of the port’s decision to send back the certification, particularly since it meant the district would now be wholly responsible for disaster response at the airport.

At the last district board of commissioners meeting on March 28, the commissioners and Chief Mike Brown discussed the effect the port’s action might have on fire coverage in that area. The commissioners agreed some rewriting needed to be done to the shared-services agreement between the port and the district. There was even talk of the port’s volunteer station being dissolved.

“It’s really not that big of a benefit to us without the (ARF),” Brown said.

Last week, however, the port and the district sat down and decided there really wasn’t as much to work out as they had expected. The agreement, which has been in place since the 1980s, calls for the port and district employees to work together and for the port to take first-response responsibility.

“I think we’ve agreed our current agreement needs to be slightly modified, but it’s still appropriate,” Brown said.

The new agreement will simply eliminate the mention of the port’s first-response requirements. Although the crash truck will likely be removed from service, the two other vehicles stored at the port’s station — a district-owned engine and a port-owned tender — will remain in service under the district’s jurisdiction.

It has not yet been established whether the port will maintain ownership of the tender or sell it to the district.

“We’ve not really talked about that, but it’s going to be something that happens in the future,” Attebery said.

The airport has been certified since the mid-1970s, and even intermittently had a commercial airline operating with service to SeaTac. However, the last airline, Harbor Airlines, folded several years ago and the port doesn’t think any replacements are forthcoming.

Port and airport officials fault the current economy and the existence of convenient options — such as the Kitsap Airporter bus — for getting from Kitsap County to SeaTac. With new security requirements, the airport would also have to institute check-in and baggage screening guidelines as strict as those SeaTac uses if an airline hoped to reinstate a Bremerton National-SeaTac route.

All in all, airport officials said, it’s not worth holding onto the certification in hopes that an interested airline company will walk in the door next week.

If a company does apply for a commercial service lease, Salisbury said the port could likely re-obtain the certification within a relatively short period.

The variable in the equation would be the time needed to get an ARF team re-trained, which would be dependent on the availability of training facilities. Otherwise, the airport staff would simply need to make an appointment with FAA officials to come out and inspect the airport. Because the FAA district office is in Seattle, Salisbury said that would not present a logistical problem.

“They’re only a ferryboat ride away,” Salisbury said. “I don’t want to say days, but it could happen in a very short period of time.”

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