As the main access point to the Sequim skies, Sequim Valley Airport soars into its 30th year.
Looking back, Andy Sallee, president of the airport, said there’s no real downside to the airport.
“It’s been a place people have enjoyed,” he said. “It’s been a vital transportation link for the community.
Even the Coast Guard and Army use it. I take a lot of joy in the retired people coming out and just enjoying the airport, too.”
The airport serves as the centerpiece of a special celebration called the Olympic Peninsula Air Affaire over two days Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
Sallee said it’s a good way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the airport and the 100th anniversary of Sequim.
“The Sequim area is a big part of our lives,” he said. “This is definitely the year to do something cool.”
Emily Westcott, pilot and co-organizer of the event, said she wanted a way to celebrate the airport and what it’s done for the community with the event that features hot air balloon rides, wing walkers, skydivers, remote control planes, planes, vintage cars and motorcycles and more.
Sallee said this is likely to be the biggest event ever at the airport, which is funny to him because he hears rumors that the airport is shutting down or for sale.
“Even though we’re on all the maps, a lot of people don’t even know we’re here,” he said.
The public but privately owned airport allows anyone to land without permission with an honor system for landing fees.
In the summer, Sallee estimates about 30-40 planes come and go each day and five-10 in the winter.
“It’s increased some over the years but it’s hard to know with the honor system,” he said.
“Some say hobby flying is going by the wayside with fuel costs, but we don’t see it.”
What the Sallee family did see was big support from the community when Jack and Winnie Sallee envisioned the Carlsborg-area airport.
Jack Sallee was a military pilot in the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, flying jet fighters before taking on a career with Braniff International.
Three of his four sons, including Andy, went on to become professional pilots and even Andy’s son Daniel is a career pilot.
After Braniff went bankrupt, Jack Sallee adamantly pursued his vision to build a public airport to benefit the whole community.
“Sequim only had a few small air strips before,” Andy said. “The P.A. Airport is nice but a ways from Sequim.”
So in 1983, the Sallees began their journey to create Sequim’s airport.
In three months, they secured all of the necessary permitting, which Andy said is unheard of now. They opened the grass runway a year later.
Andy said he devoted two years of his life to create the airport while his wife Jane, his-then-girfriend, worked at Casoni’s Restaurant, a Carlsborg Italian establishment, to make ends meet.
They married in 1985, the same year the airport’s 3,500-feet runway was paved.
More expansions came with an aircraft maintenance hangar in 1986 and a 20-unit hangar in 1988.
While the airport was his dad’s vision, Andy said it remains a community effort.
Much of it was built with borrowed equipment and volunteers’ time and is maintained today with volunteers.
“A lot of people saw a need for it,” Andy said.
Jack Sallee chose the airport’s location for a number of reasons — by the water, then there’s too much fog, there’s too much rain and wind; by the mountains, the runway needed to go east to west because of prevailing winds from the west, and he didn’t want to fly over people in the city too low.
Early on, the Sallees started Coastal Airways but ceased operations in 1990. Rite Bros. Aviation out of Port Angeles continues to pick up passengers in Sequim though for flights, Andy said.
The airport’s facilities have held the test of time mostly, Andy said.
A snowstorm froze a culvert in the winter of 1996 and flooded and cracked the runway leading the Sallees to repave it. But it continues to host an array of incoming aircraft including mail carriers, air ambulances and the military. The runway supports aircraft up to 12,500 pounds, Andy said.
Jack and Winnie kept the airport running with their family while he served as president until a forklift accident took his life in 1997.
Winnie took over as president until her death in 2009. During her time, the airport installed a taxiway and restored the road entrance. She also helped create an airport overlay district to protect the airspace around the airport. Sequim Valley Airport is sanctioned to be an airport for the foreseeable future.
“I’m committed to keeping it an airport for the long term future,” Andy said.
Since 2010, Andy took over for his mom as president. He and his brothers and volunteers have been maintaining things since then and securing easements and right of ways for the airport over the past three years.
They’ve also added a webcam to the airport’s website and and 24-hour self-service fuel station next to the repair shop.
Andy Sallee previously worked for DHL for 20 years before it cut its North American services. He landed with Allegiant Air and plans to work out of Bellingham in the near future while continuing his work with the airport.
In Sequim, Andy said they’ve been breaking even with the landing fees and fuel sales but intend to grow the airport in the future with help from investors.
Parcels of land line the entrance to the airport, which could be used for homes or industry.
“We want to make it more of a destination,” he said. “But we’re not looking at big growth. Just small growth. We don’t want hundreds of planes flying out.”
His ideal vision for the airport in the near future would be to build more hangars, a new terminal, pave the main road and possibly put in a cafe.
Andy said the airport receives few noise complaints.
“Most people like having us here,” he said. “People probably complain more about the traffic on Carlsborg Road.”
For more information on the Sequim Valley Airport, 468 Dorothy Hunt Road, Sequim, visit www.sequimvalleyairport.com.
For more on the Air Affaire, visit olympicpeninsulaairaffaire.weebly.com.