EVERETT — Allegiant Air officials visited Paine Field last week to eyeball the airport where the company is looking to bring passenger flights, a controversial proposal that’s rekindled debate over the airport’s future.
Neither officials with Snohomish County, which owns and operates Paine Field, nor the Las Vegas-based airline would discuss details of the Thursday visit.
“Basically it was a scoping visit, looking to see what they might need to operate service,” county spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said. “And they talked to us a little bit about their needs.”
Tyri Squyres, an Allegiant Air spokeswoman, confirmed beforehand that the visit would take place but would not comment afterward.
Schwarzen said he didn’t know whether another meeting is scheduled or when Allegiant Air would get back to the county.
The airline last month expressed interest in offering two to four flights per week from Paine Field to Las Vegas. The airline currently offers flights from Bellingham to Las Vegas and West Coast cities on MD-80 jets able to carry 130 or 150 passengers.
County Executive Aaron Reardon, four of the five county councilmen, and leaders in several south county cities quickly came out against the plan. Opponents of passenger flights at Paine Field say noise from passenger flights would damage neighborhoods. The airport currently primarily serves Boeing operations and small aircraft.
Some county business leaders have come out in favor of flights at the airport, arguing for the convenience of flying from Everett versus the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and saying that commercial air service could help the county’s economy.
After the county officials wrote a letter to Allegiant Air stating their opposition, the Federal Aviation Administration wrote a letter to county officials reminding them that to continue receiving federal funds for the airport, they must negotiate in good faith with any air service provider.
The county has received nearly $60 million in federal funds for Paine Field since taking it over from the U.S. Air Force in the late 1960s.
County officials say they plan to live up to their agreement with the federal government while continuing to state their opposition to air passenger service.
The county is not obligated to pay for improvements to the airport or roads to help an airline provide service, but must provide space if it’s available, according to Carol Key, manager of the Seattle Airports District Office for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The current Paine Field terminal is 525 square feet and has room for up to 15 passengers, airport director Dave Waggoner has said. By contrast, Bellingham’s terminal is 27,000 square feet, consisting of one ticket counter, a glassed-in security area, a gift shop-snack bar, a waiting area and a baggage claim area.
Meanwhile, county officials have had discussions with political consultant Ron Dotzauer about hiring his firm, Strategies 360, to promote their cause on the issue.
Dotzauer, who lives in Machias, ran successful campaigns for the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson in 1982, Gov. Booth Gardner in 1984 and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell in 2000. His company has offices in Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and Helena, Mont.
“A number of folks have approached us and talked to us about this,” Dotzauer said. “At this point in time there’s no agreement for us to do anything. We are in discussions.”
The cities of Mukilteo, Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace — each of which has approved a formal resolution against passenger service — could pool their resources with the county to hire Dotzauer’s firm, he said.
Last year, Mukilteo set aside a $250,000 war chest to possibly use to fight any plans for scheduled air service.
County Councilman Brian Sullivan of Mukilteo, a staunch opponent of passenger flights, said an advocate such as Dotzauer could push the argument that the airport should keep its economic focus on aerospace rather than passenger service.
“I feel very strongly about educating our legislators,” Sullivan said. “This is very rudimentary at this point. We’ve had a few conversations.”
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or email@example.com.