Towered and non-towered airports operate across the region

Regional Aviation Baseline Study

In the United States, non-towered airports drastically outnumber airports with air traffic control (ATC) towers, 40 to 1. In the central Puget Sound, seven of the region’s 29 airports have towers: the three commercial passenger airports—Seattle-Tacoma International, Boeing Field, and Paine Field, both military airfields—McChord and Gray Army, plus Renton Municipal and Tacoma Narrows airports.

Protocol varies drastically between towered and non-towered airports. Airports with air traffic capabilities have tower controllers who coordinate operations by issuing taxi, departure, and arrival instructions for pilots on specific frequencies. Non-towered airports, on the other hand, primarily rely on established traffic patterns, right of way rules, and communication procedures on Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) to prevent air and ground collisions.

Air traffic services help coordinate the region’s aviation operations at important hubs and offer essential support to passenger, cargo, corporate, and military services. But the aviation system also depends on the numerous other airports that rely on the knowledge and training of pilots to operate safely. Together, these create the robust system to support the region’s commercial, cargo and general aviation activities.

PSRC is conducting a Regional Aviation Baseline Study to better understand the region’s aviation system and options for meeting growing demand. Results from the study will form the technical foundation for future decisions by regional and state leaders.  A final report is due out in fall 2020.