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2 years, no verdict on Paine Field passenger flights

Supporters are pushing the FAA for a ruling on flights at Paine Field; it says it will decide in the fall.

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By Bill Sheets
Herald Writer
EVERETT -- Allegiant Air and Horizon Air wrote letters to Snohomish County in 2008, asking to fly passenger jets from Paine Field.
Officials with the county, which owns the airport, said they could build a small terminal there. An environmental study was done in 2009. Public comments were collected in January 2010.
Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration said they would have a decision within a couple of months.
That was more than two years ago.
Some of the people who want to see flights from Paine Field are pushing for an answer.
"Things just keep sliding and sliding and sliding," said Todd Brunner, owner of Brunner Construction of Lynnwood and co-chairman of the group Citizens' Right to Fly from Paine Field.
The group, composed mainly of Snohomish County businessmen and women, is encouraging people to call or write the FAA and ask officials to speed up the approval process.
"We just thought, without being adversarial, we would apply a little pressure," Brunner said.
The FAA has now scheduled its decision for release in mid-September, according to Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the agency at its Northwest regional office in Renton. A 30-day comment period will follow, and a final report will be issued at the end of November, Fergus said.
The delay is due to the time it takes to provide thorough responses to the roughly 900 comments received on the Paine Field environmental study, Fergus said.
"We may have underestimated the effort it would take for the thoroughness it would take for the responses," he said. "Anything quicker, that would be deemed incomplete or insufficient, is not on the table."
The FAA has given several projected completion dates over the past couple of years, none of which have come to pass.
This time should be different, Fergus said.
"I've got every faith and confidence it will," he said.
Allegiant Air, based in Las Vegas, proposed to start with four flights per week the first year, increasing to 20 in five years. Horizon, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines in Seattle, proposed to start with 12 flights a day and increase to 20 by the fifth year, or 140 per week.
The 2009 study concluded that this number of flights would not have a significant effect on noise, auto traffic or pollution around the airport.
Opponents disagreed, contending that allowing even just a few flights at the airport could open the door to more in the future.
They said the study was flawed because it considered only the flights proposed by the two airlines and failed to address the possibility of additional flights.
Officials with the FAA said in August 2010 that agency staff would expand their review to address about twice the number of flights per day as those currently proposed by the airlines.
Greg Hauth of the Mukilteo-based anti-flights group Save Our Communities said that if the delay means the FAA is being thorough, then it's not a problem.
"We would rather have the FAA be cautious, deliberate and take their time," he said. "We would rather have them get to the right answer slowly than the wrong answer quickly."
Ideally, this would mean doing an environmental impact statement, a more exhaustive study than the environmental assessment done in 2009, Hauth said. Officials with the FAA have not said whether they will require another study.
In the past, Allegiant Air officials have said the delay would not affect their plans. They could not be reached for comment for this story.
Horizon Air, spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said in an email, "will evaluate the economic and market conditions when the environmental report has been completed."
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439;
Story tags » Air travelPaine Field

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