JCPA

Jefferson County Pilots Association

Photo: Port of Port Townsend

History of Jefferson County International Airport

At the meeting of the Jefferson County Pilots Association on October 4, 2008, Bob Daley shared some of his personal flying experiences and told the story of the development of our airport.

Bob played a major role in the development of the airport as we now know it, and began his presentation by introducing three people present who also made significant contributions: Bob Biffle who did the original design work in 1986; Ray Lowrie, one of the Port Commissioners in 1986; and Herb Beck, on the Port Commission at the time of the presentation in 2008.

The Early Years

Jefferson County International Airport started as a grass strip at “Station Prairie” for the US Army Coastal Artillery in the 1920s. One of the earliest recorded landings was the arrival of an army officer in 1922 to inspect the reserve troops bivouacked near the field. The first international flight arrived from Canada in 1929 and cleared customs, establishing Port Townsend as an International Airport.

The US Government maintained the airport as Port Townsend Army Airfield until 1946 at which time it deeded the property to the City of Port Townsend. The City subsequently transferred the airport to Jefferson County. In June of 1959 the County turned the airport over to the Port of Port Townsend who currently own and operate the field.

In the 1980s the FAA became concerned about trees at both ends of the runway, and power lines at the West end. The FAA wanted the Port to either make safety improvements to the existing field or to choose another site. In 1986 Bob Daley was ask to be the chairman of the Airport Advisory Committee to make recommendations. Other members on the committee were: Bob Biffle, Airport Design; Bob Benjamin, Lawyer; Bart Phillips, Economic Development Commission; Brian Swigert, Puget Power; Ray Lowrie, Port Commissioner; George Yount, Port Manager; plus Lowell Larson, Charlie Sherk, Duane Tolle, and William Lewis.

The committee evaluated 17 possible sites, and narrowed the list to three including a ridge near Port Ludlow, Chimacum Ridge, and the existing field.

On February 4, 1987, after many long and sometimes heated public debates, the existing field was selected as the site for a new airport.

The End of an Era

By 1990, Jefferson County was the only designated International Airport in the contiguous 48 states without a paved runway.

The current runway was finished in 1990 and on September 20 of that year, Bob Daley was given the honor of being the first pilot to land on the new runway after taking off from the parallel grass strip.

According to Wikipedia, “Jefferson County International Airport covers an area of 292 acres at an elevation of 108 feet above mean sea level. It has one runway designated 9/27 with an asphalt surface measuring 3,000 by 75 feet.

“For the 12-month period ending April 30, 2009, the airport had 58,000 aircraft operations, an average of 158 per day: 97% general aviation and 3% air taxi. At that time there were 107 aircraft based at this airport: 94% single-engine, 5% multi-engine and 1% ultralight.”

The airport continues to evolve and improve, and in 2013, the FAA published an instrument approach enabling pilots to land with the cloud base as low as 900 feet above the ground – a regular occurrence in winter.

About Bob Daley

Bob soloed in 1955, and worked as a commercial pilot in Alaska for many years prior to moving to Port Townsend in 1979. He flew 800 hours for Ludlow Aviation from 1981 to 1987. One of his most memorable experiences was flying two reporters off our Washington coast to take pictures of a Soviet spy ship and its subsequent confrontation with a US Navy destroyer. Bob passed away August 23, 2014.