Runt. That might be what you think of when you see the IATA code — RNT — of Renton Municipal Airport (aka Clayton Scott Field). Yes, it might be small compared to many other airports, but it has a huge impact on the global aviation market.
The airports in the greater Seattle area can be confusing. I find that many are aware that all Boeing commercial aircraft are made in the Seattle area (and Charleston), but it is not so clear how the airports play such different roles. RNT’s big claim to fame is that every Boeing 737 is built at the Boeing facility next door, and every 737 has made its first flight from there (even the P-8 Poseidon). If you were following the first flight of the Boeing 737 MAX, that was RNT.
I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Jonathan Wilson, RNT’s Airport Manager, to learn more about their operations and future. Not everyone that I meet in aviation is an AvGeek, but Jonathan definitely is one. We ended up talking airlines, airports, and of course RNT. Then we loaded up in one of their sweet trucks and drove around the airport!
First, let me clarify a bit about the three airports that are south of Seattle. The map above shows Boeing Field [aka King County International Airport] (BFI), which is green; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), which is orange/yellow; and Renton Municipal Airport, is blue. Not shown on the map is Paine Field (PAE), which is located about 35 miles north of SEA in Everett, WA, where Boeing builds the 747, 767, 777, and 787.
Of course, RNT is where the planes are built and fly away from, then BFI is where they land and are prepared for delivery, and finally SEA is a commercial airport that flies many 737s for different airlines (including Alaska Airlines, which is based there).
Like Paine Field (which is owned by Snohomish County), RNT is not owned by Boeing — it is owned by the City of Renton. The majority of traffic is made up of single-engined piston aircraft and each year, it sees about 112,000 operations (takeoffs/landings). That is quite a bit, considering it only has one runway that is 5,382 feet in length.
On the north side of the airport is the Will Rogers – Wiley Post Memorial Seaplane Base (W36), which offers a floating dock and ramp. This means seaplanes can fly in on the water, be towed up on land, have some wheels slapped on, and take off on the runway (or visa-versa).
Although many people still refer to the airport as “Renton Municipal,” its name was changed to Clayton Scott Field in 2005. Clayton Scott was an amazing aviator, who had a long career (and life) in the Seattle region. He was born in 1905 and started flying at an early age. In the 1930s, he ended up meeting William Boeing (the founder of Boeing) by chance and they became friends. At first, Scott ended up becoming Boeing’s personal pilot and then he worked as the chief production test pilot, on both commercial and military aircraft, until 1966.
He unfortunately ended up passing away at the age of 101 in 2006. The airport had its name changed during Scott’s 100th birthday as a celebration of his accomplishments.
The airport currently covers 170 acres, and due to its location there isn’t much opportunity to grow. However, they are in process of re-organizing space to allow additional 737 MAXs to be stored before the first delivery next year.
You might have heard someone say that a 737 can take off from the airport, but is not able to land. Honestly, when I went on my tour, I wasn’t 100% sure if that was true (okay, I totally thought it was true). It turns out that it is false. Over the years, there have been a number of 737s that have landed — even larger aircraft with no problems.
The airport has built much more than 737s. This was also the birthplace for every Boeing 707, 727, and 757 built (not to mention some military aircraft, like the B-29 and C-97). Think of all the different aircraft that have taken off from RNT and flown millions of passengers around the world for decades.
Probably by “acre per impact on aviation” (I don’t think that is a real metric), it would be hard to find an airport that has done more than Clayton Scott Field / Renton Municipal Airport. With the 737 MAX production likely to continue for decades, the airport will keep influencing the future of air travel. Next time you take a flight on a 737 or 757 (or the very rare 727), you can think of the little RNT that has made a huge mark on aviation.