Longview — To see the growth in air traffic that is coming through Southwest Washington Regional Airport, just look look at June 4.
Two years ago, seven planes came through the airport on that day, according to the aviation-tracking website FlightAware. Last year, 13 planes came through.
This year saw 44 planes come through the Kelso airport on June 4 — the busiest day in recent history for the regional facility. Six other days in June also logged at least 40 flights through the local airport.
Airport executive director Chris Paolini said there are multiple reasons for the increased number of flights. When COVID-19 began canceling flights and affected major commercial routes last year, smaller airports such as Southwest Washington were able to compete for the remaining business traffic. That temporary boost has held up even as general air travel returns to its previous rates.
“I think the whole industry is excited and surprised by how healthy general aviation has been with private businesses and smaller flights,” Paolini said.
A second increase in traffic came in mid-April, when Cascade Air took over as the airport’s fixed-base operator through an open-bid process. The base operator is the primary business manager at the airport, working on everything from fuel services to flight training and plane rentals.
Cascade Air was incorporated as a company in February and had not previously operated an airport before winning the bid for Kelso. Owner and founder David Statham had previously been a leader for the National Wings and Armor Foundation, a nonprofit that maintains military aircraft for education and use by veterans.
“Before we were here, there wasn’t a whole lot of training taking place,” said James Wunder, assistant chief pilot for Cascade Air. “Now we have someone available throughout the day for training flights and discovery flights.”
The training flights through Cascade Air includes both aerial flight training and school courses to help pilots receive FAA certification.
The company is completing a full remodel of the airport’s main terminal building, which Wunder said will open to the public later this summer.