Bellingham International Airport

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Bellingham International Airport
(Bellingham/Tulip Army Airfield)
Bellingham International Airport Logo.jpg
Bellingham International Airport, passenger terminal, June 2012.jpg
Airport type Public
Operator Port of Bellingham
Serves Bellingham, Washington
Location Whatcom County
Hub for San Juan Airlines
Focus city for Allegiant Air
Elevation AMSL 170 ft / 51.8 m
Coordinates 48°47′33″N 122°32′15″W / 48.79250°N 122.53750°W / 48.79250; -122.53750Coordinates: 48°47′33″N 122°32′15″W / 48.79250°N 122.53750°W / 48.79250; -122.53750
KBLI is located in Washington (state)
Direction Length Surface
ft m
16/34 6,701 2,042 Asphalt
Statistics (2012)
Aircraft movements 62,783
Number of Passengers (total) 1,140,000

Bellingham International Airport (IATA: BLIICAO: KBLIFAA LID: BLI) is three miles (5 km) northwest of Bellingham, in Whatcom County, Washington, and the third-largest commercial airport in Washington.[2] Due to the airport's close proximity to British Columbia, Canada, it is a low fare alternative airport to the Vancouver International Airport. On the Allegiant website the airport is referred to as Bellingham/Vancouver.

The newly constructed gate area has five gates, a coffee shop and a restaurant with a bar. The second phase of the terminal expansion will add a baggage carousel in addition to larger ticketing and pre-security areas for passengers, scheduled to be completed in phases beginning in 2012 and with completion expected by 2015.


BLI - FAA airport diagram.png

In 1936 Whatcom County obtained 200 acres (0.81 km2) for an airport at the current airport site. Three runways were planned, but it took almost four years to get the first 5000' x 150' runway cleared and paved. Temporary Port of Entry status was secured early, but the slow construction left it in a continually tenuous state – United Airlines would only base there if the field were safe enough for their DC-3s, and it maintained its Port of Entry status. Ultimately they built a terminal, designed by F. Stanley Piper, and the airport was dedicated in 1940, having employed more than 500 people.

In 1940 the United States Army Corps of Engineers took over the facility and expanded it to three full runways, revetments for parking aircraft, and development of personnel quarters. During World War II the airport was used by Fourth Air Force immediately after the Pearl Harbor Attack for air defense of the Pacific Coast. It was later used by Air Transport Command and Air Technical Service Command as an intermediate ferrying field for Lend-Lease aircraft being flown to Alaska for subsequent transfer to the Soviet Union.

The United States Army Air Forces]] closed the facility in September 1946, and it was turned over to the War Assets Administration for disposal. It slowly was returned to Whatcom County and was redeveloped as a civil airport in the late 1940s. With the rising costs and need for repairs, Whatcom county sold the Airport to the Port of Bellingham for one dollar in 1957. Because of costs, the Port of Bellingham could only resurface the longest of the runways (16/34).[3] 16/34 is still the only runway used as it provides adequate year-round wind coverage for aircraft servicing Bellingham. The two diagonal runways have fallen into disrepair, their easternmost ends used as taxiways between tarmacs and the sole remaining runway.

In 1985 Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) brought Bellingham's first passenger jets, McDonnell Douglas MD-80s direct to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, via Seattle/Tacoma. PSA was acquired by American Airlines which continued to serve Bellingham with Boeing 737-300s. Alaska Airlines introduced MD-80 jets in the late 1980s, competing with American Airlines as both airlines had nonstop jets to Seattle/Tacoma and beyond.

In the 1990s homes were purchased to extend the runway in an effort to attract air carriers. The assumption is that there would not be a third runway at Sea-Tac airport. The airport has seen a high turnover rate.

In September 2010 the airport completed a $26 million resurfacing of the runway to allow aircraft up to the size of Boeing 757s. This project was completed to serve Allegiant Airlines Boeing 757s.

The airport is expanding the terminal building from 27,000 to 85,000 square feet (2,500 to 7,900 m2). The first phase is complete with a new gate area completed and temporary portable waiting areas removed. The second phase is to start in 2012 and reach completion by 2015 and will expand the pre-security areas of the airport including the addition of a baggage carousel for arriving passengers. The cost of the expansion to the terminal building is covered by surcharges from passengers and parking fees.[4]


The current terminal building was built in two phases. The first phase was completed in 1980. The second phase, or the expansion phase, was constructed because of increased passenger volumes and the arrival of new air carriers. In 1985, a separate International Terminal was built to the south in order to accommodate the Federal Inspection Services necessary for international travelers to access the United States; it is connected to the main terminal through a covered walkway. The main terminal is approximately 26,000 square feet and includes three levels, the basement, the ground floor, and the second floor. The basement houses a small storage facility; the ground floor is where the entire passenger processing area is held, and the second floor contains office space. There is on concession stand: Halibut Henry's store where light snacks, coffee drinks, gifts, and sundries are offered. The International Terminal is a one-level building consisting of 4,222 square feet. It serves several functions including the housing of the Federal Inspection Service, FIS offices, and the storage of BLI's Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting equipment.[5]

Commercial service expansion[edit]

An aerial view of the Belligham International Airport.

The early 21st century saw rapid expansion at the Bellingham International Airport from multiple large air carriers motivated by the potential passenger loads from lower mainland British Columbia. Allegiant's commitment to the airport has led to a rapid rise in passenger numbers and the introduction of many non-stop destinations served from Bellingham. Other airlines have recognized the potential of Bellingham International's location and further expanded service into the airport.

In early 2007 Bellingham International hosted service to three destinations by the short-lived Western Airlines. Later the same year, Skybus Airlines provided flights to their hub in Ohio, but shut down quickly like Western Airlines had done earlier.

On March 1, 2008, Allegiant Air opened up their sixth base at Bellingham International Airport. The airline currently bases 5 McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft in Bellingham. In 2012 Allegiant announced service to two locations in the Hawaiian islands (Honolulu and Kahului) from Bellingham after receiving ETOPS certification from the FAA for their 757 aircraft.

In response to the increased low fare competition offered by Allegiant in their home state, Alaska Airlines expanded service from Bellingham International; first adding daily flights to Las Vegas and following with a daily roundtrip to Honolulu. Frontier Airlines announced in early 2012 the addition of a daily seasonal summer service from Bellingham to its main hub in Denver beginning May 2012.

In September 2010 the airport completed a $26 million resurfacing of the runway to allow aircraft up to the size of Boeing 757s to utilize the airport. This project was completed in order to serve Allegiant 757 service to Honolulu and Maui which began operations in November 2012.[6]

The runway and taxiway resurfacing and improvement projects were funded with FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants covering 95% of project costs. In 2010 the FAA contribution towards airport projects was $27,267,000. The 5% local match came from BLI Passenger Facility Charge accounts. FAA AIP grants also have contributed to the acquisition of additional Airport Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) equipment, Aircraft de-ice equipment and other surface projects. The BLI PFC fee per passenger is currently at the FAA mandated maximum of $4.50 per enplaned passenger. The Terminal and ramp expansion projects are not AIP eligible as they are revenue generating facilities for the airport. The Port of Bellingham issues Revenue Bonds for $31,719,550 to pay for the terminal expansion. The debt service for the bonds also comes from BLI PFC accounts. In this way, the users of the airport facilities are the ones actually paying for the facility.

General Aviation[edit]

Bellingham International Airport has bustling general aviation activity, most of which is for the purpose of sightseeing in the San Juan Islands, Victoria in British Columbia, or the Canadian Gulf Islands. It is also a convenient Port of Entry for those flying internationally. General aviation facilities comprise a site of approximately 20 acres south of the passenger terminal facilities. There are total a 65 tie-down spaces; 48 for based aircraft and 17 for transient aircraft. 103 aircraft are sheltered by seven T-hangar and corporate aircraft structures. There is also a terminal building dedicated to general aviation servicing.[5]

Military Units[edit]

The Washington Air National Guard (WANG) occupies a 7.5-acre site at Bellingham International Airport. The Washington Air National Guard is home of the 262nd Combat Communications Squadron. The 262nd's mission is to train and equip combat communications personnel, where they field, install, operate, and maintain Ground Mobile Force communications.[7] In other words, the 262nd equips soldiers with their battlefield communication systems and trains them how to use and maintain the equipment. The WANG base consists of vehicle storage, a headquarters building, a maintenance building, and other miscellaneous storage buildings.

Airlines and destinations[edit]


Airlines Destinations
Alaska Airlines Seasonal: Honolulu, Kahului, Las Vegas, Seattle/Tacoma
Alaska Airlines
operated by Horizon Air
Portland (OR), Seattle/Tacoma
Allegiant Air Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Palm Springs, Phoenix/Mesa
Seasonal: San Diego
San Juan Airlines Eastsound, Friday Harbor, Lopez

Northwest Sky Ferry offers scheduled and charter flights from Bellingham to the San Juan Islands in Washington, Seattle, Tacoma, Port Angeles, Olympia, and British Columbia. San Juan Airlines also serves Bellingham; offering scheduled and charter flights to the San Juan Islands and British Columbia.[5] Northwest Sky Ferry and San Juan airlines offer non-jet service on aircraft including Cessna 206, 207, 182.[8]


Airlines Destinations
Ameriflight Seattle-Boeing
FedEx Express Seattle/Tacoma

Top destinations[edit]

Busiest domestic routes from BLI (June 2014 – May 2015)[9]
Rank City Passengers Carriers
1 Las Vegas, Nevada 184,000 Alaska, Allegiant
2 Seattle/Tacoma, Washington 123,000 Alaska, Horizon
3 Oakland, California 36,000 Allegiant
4 Palm Springs, California 32,000 Allegiant
5 Phoenix, Arizona (AZA) 29,000 Allegiant
5 Honolulu, Hawaii 29,000 Alaska
7 Los Angeles, California 25,000 Allegiant
8 Portland, Oregon 20,000 Horizon
9 Kahului, Hawaii 12,000 Alaska
10 San Diego, California 8,000 Allegiant

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

External links[edit]