Future of Flight’s popularity soars

By John Wolcott Snohomish County Business Journal

MUKILTEO — The Future of Flight and Boeing Tour facility at Paine Field has long been rated the most popular tourist attraction in Snohomish County. Now the aviation center is embarking on a new venture to make it even more attractive.

Amid news of increasing attendance, revenue and Boeing airliner delivery ceremonies, the Future of Flight Foundation’s directors have recently endorsed a new plan to make the facility “the center of innovation and technology,” its new marketing tagline.

“Last year our attendance reached a record of 207,020 visitors, up 10.6 percent over 2010, and our revenues were up 25 percent,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the facility. “For the first time, we reported a net profit, thanks to increased attendance and event-space rentals and refinancing of the center’s original construction debt. We covered our operating expenses plus our debt service costs two years ahead of our anticipated deadline and ended last year with a net profit.”

Since it opened in December 2005, the Future of Flight and Boeing Tour center has provided the only opportunity in North America to see airliners being built, along with a collection of rare jet engines, a composite section of a Boeing 787 and illustrated history presentations of commercial aviation.

Through the collaboration of Boeing, the Future of Flight Foundation, Snohomish County Public Facilities District and Snohomish County Airport-Paine Field, visitors discover the dynamics of flight and experience aviation innovations and flight in a barnstorming stunt plane in the center’s flight simulator.

The Flights of Innovation program builds students’ creative thinking skills by showing how aviation uses science, technology, engineering and math.

Thanks to a recent General Electric aviation program, the center received $132,000 to equip the exhibit gallery with a theater that includes a 17-by-30-foot projection screen, black curtains for the hangar door and motorized shades for the gallery windows.

The new theater elevates the exhibit area to a new level of sophisticated technology and provides options for education programs, special events and Boeing aircraft deliveries.

Among the latest displays at the center was Air France’s 75th anniversary celebration exhibit that charted the airline’s decades of air service, from the 1940s to the jet age, and development of the supersonic Concorde in the 1970s.

True to its original concept, the Future of Flight and Boeing Tour facility has become a unique learning and interpretive center that has attracted more than a million visitors from around the world, who pumped an estimated $114 million into the county’s economy.

As Future of Flight Foundation board member Bill Stafford recently wrote in a guest editorial for The Herald, “our expanded strategy plan will transform the visitor experience and intensify our emphasis on engaging youth in aviation, technology and innovation.”

The center’s current Flights of Innovation program has served more than 1,200 students from schools throughout Snohomish County, said Stafford, who also is CEO of the Trade Development Alliance of Seattle. He said the flight center wants to promote more interest in aviation, math, engineering and related education programs offered by Everett and Edmonds community colleges and the new presence of Washington State University in Everett.

One of the newest developments in recent years, Smith said, is that the facility provides the stage for Boeing airliner deliveries to its customers from around the world.

“In 2011, Boeing delivered 11 planes at Future of Flight, attended by top executives of Boeing, Snohomish County and the facility,” he said. “This year, we will have delivered 12 in the first quarter alone.”

Over the next three years, he said, Boeing’s increased aircraft deliveries are expected to grow to 22 deliveries a year as production gears up to clear orders.

“That’s why Boeing is planning to build its own delivery center that can handle two ceremonies at one time,” Smith said. “It will become another major attraction for our visitors. Also, we’ll continue to handle some of the deliveries at the Future of Flight.”