For Andy Sallee, flying simply runs in the family. His father and uncle, two brothers, his son and daughter-in-law are all pilots, and his daughter completed a solo flight last year.
The joy doesn’t leave, he says, not even after 13,000 hours in the skies over the past 40 years.
“You don’t get tired of it,” Sallee says. “The views are just so incredible.”
From his office, Sallee — the airport’s manager and president — is recounting some of the steps that brought the Sequim Valley Airport to what it is now, what he dubs a “sort of a diamond in the rough.”
It was here that three-and-a-half decades ago his parents Jack and Winnie Sallee bought up 55 acres of prime Sequim earth and, seeing an opportunity for something special, created a privately owned, open-for-public-use airport in the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains.
Now, more than 35 years removed from its inception, Sallee, his wife Jane and 26 other shareholders are ready for a new chapter as they put the community airport up for sale. Many of the original investors are retired or have passed along their share on to family members — including Sallee’s brothers — who are interested in cashing in their shares.
And while Sallee says he sees big potential for the property beyond what it is now, from visions of an event center and restaurant to aviation-related business facilities, corporate hangars and more, he’s nearing retirement and would rather be on the consulting side of the airport’s future than spearheading those projects.
“Whoever buys it has got to have that same vision,” Sallee says. “To keep it a community airport.”
Sequim Valley Airport was founded in 1983 when the Sallees found a large, level valley area between the Olympics and Strait of Juan De Fuca, situated in the middle of the famed Sequim “Blue Hole.”
Jack, 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, had a background in flying and had just lost his position with Braniff International Airways when the airline went bankrupt in the early 1980s.
Sequim had a few airstrips at the time, Andy recalls, and the spot seemed suited for a community airport, with just 17 inches or so of rain sprinkling the valley each year — about half the average rainfall at Port Angeles’ community airport.
The couple, Jack and Winnie asked if Andy, a pilot by age 18 and instructor by age 20 who was living in eastern Washington at the time, if he and a brother Joe would take some time off to help build an airport. Sallee, a 1978 graduate of Sequim High School and 1980 Peninsula College grad, and his brother jumped at the chance.
The Sallees and 12 additional investors partnered to finance the airport’s construction in trade for stock in the airport’s Sub Chapter S corporation. The permitting went fairly quick, Andy recalls, just about three months. A year later, the airport had a grass runway.
By 1986, the same year Andy and wife Jane tied the knot, the airport added a 40-foot-wide, 3,500-foot-long paved, lighted runway.
More expansions came with an aircraft maintenance hangar in 1986 and a 20-unit hangar in 1988. The runway was repaved in 1996 after a snowstorm froze a culvert andflooded the rest of the runway.
Jack Sallee ran the airport and 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 in cooperation with Clallam County in 2007 that creates additional protection of airspace around the airport and more flexibility in zoning.
With a long background in commercial flying (including piloting the large commercial 727s), Andy Sallee took over as president, assisted by his wiufe Jane, following his mother’s passing, in 2009.
Daniel Sallee has followed in the footsteps of his father Andy and uncles William and Joe with a career as a commercial pilot (and currently flys B-747s), while his wife Rachel pilots C-17s in the U.S. Air Force. Andy and Jane’s daughter Elisa also soloed for the first time last year.
Over the years Sequim Valley Airport has served countless users, including: local and visiting pilots; various medical and air ambulance services; flight instruction and education; hot air balloon flights; training for various government entities such as U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol, Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, fire departments, forest fighting operations, Civil Air Patrol and others; air cargo, and various commercial endeavors.
The airport welcomes hundreds of visitors to events such as the annual Olympic Peninsula Air Affaire/Fly-In. Though canceled this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, the annual event features antique plane exhibitions, a classic car show, hot air balloon and helicopter rides, remote control aircraft displays, aerial demonstrations, aviation crafts, music, food and more. An estimated 3,500 people attended the seventh-annual Air Affaire in 2019.
The airport is also home to two chapters of the Experimental Aircraft Association, a group of pilots who host aviation programs, summer barbecues and scheduled fly-outs as well as the Young Eagles program that introduces youths of ages 7-17 to aviation with introductory flights.
“(The airport) contributes quite a bit of the community,” airport board member Dave LeRoux says.
Sallee estimates there are 7,000 operations annually out of Sequim Valley Airport, in large part based on the unique location that doesn’t see too much rain, wind or fog, and, as the airport boasts, it features the driest climate of any public use airport in Western Washington.
The airport, through a partnership with Wolf Industries, added a pair of “tiny house” cabin rentals in 2018 that can be reserved using AirBnB.
A short grass trail south links to the Olympic Discovery Trail. The Sallees have a set of bikes for visitors who want to pedal into town for the sights.
“We’ve got a really cool facility,” Sallee says. “We say our guests can fly in, bike in, or drive in.”
Discovery Trail Farm Airpark
LeRoux says he had always wanted to find ways to preserve farmland, and a 65-acre portion of land adjacent to the airport provided the perfect opportunity. A deal was struck with Winnie Sallee.
“It was just a natural fit,” LeRoux says.
Located at the northwest corner of Sequim Valley Airport, the airpark provides residences for pilots and their families as well as those who simply want to live near an airport. The neighborhood of 15 homes is surrounded by 52 acres of dedicated farmland-farmland that will never be developed, LeRoux says, under the conservation protection of the North Olympic Land Trust.
Airpark newcomers pay a premium when they move in, giving residents permanent, perpetual access to the airport while helping protect the farmland nearby.
“Even if they don’t fly they have to pay the airport access fee,” LeRoux says.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” he says. “They get access to money.
“They write two checks: one to me, one to Andy. Mine is bigger.”
Sallee says it’s similar to a marina community, as in, “You want to live close to your boat.”
Visions of expansion
When he’s not doing much of the grunt work around the airport — fixing lights and mowing fields and, on this fall day, righting a slightly askew port-a-potty — Andy Sallee’s got a day job as chief pilot flying a corporate jet for two clients out of Seattle. Eight days out of the month he’s piloting thousands of feet over Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon or some other indelible geographic landmark.
Now that he’s nearing retirement age (he just turned 60), however, Andy says he and Jane would like to take a step back from day-to-day airport operations.
“I’m going to fly for a few more years,” he says. “I still like flying the corporate jet.”
After polling other shareholders, he says, they’re ready to sell as well.
“We don’t want to be completely tied down,” Sallee says.
Ideally, Sallee says, an investor or group would come in to take on the airport and develop amenities such as a restaurant, aviation industry, hangar expansion and/or additional commercial services, while the Sallees would be nearby to help out as needed.
“We think it’d be an awesome place for (more) events,” Andy says. “It all boils down to time and money.”
While the area has three private airports, including one at Diamond Point, LeRoux says, there’s “nothing as nice as this … and it’s got such a spectacular mountain view.”
The airport recently saw the addition of an above-ground fuel tank and removal of its underground fuel tank, saving the facility $3,200 a year, Sallee says.
State officials in recent years saw that many community airports are failing, Sallee says, so they developed a grant program that pays for Airport Master Plans to project five to 20 years. A plan being developed by Century West Engineering will help with the future of Sequim Valley Airport, he says, to pay for maintenance such as replacement of runway lights and repair of runways and taxiways.
“We’re really thrilled about it,” Sallee said of the program.
Built and operated at no cost to local taxpayers, he notes that if Sequim Valley Airport were built today, obtaining open land and acquiring building permits would be difficult, if not impossible.
For more information about Sequim Valley Airport, visit www.sequimvalleyairport.com.
Running Sequim Valley Airport
Sequim Valley Airport is overseen by an eight-person board of directors with varied aviation backgrounds. Andy and Jane Sallee currently own more than 70 percent of the corporation’s stock, with the remaining stock owned by 27 investors. Revenues come from tie-downs, landing fees, fuel sales, hangar rental, association dues and airpark lot sales; the airport also operates with volunteer help.