Everett to join airport debate

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council’s snub of discount airline Allegiant Air has already raised the eyebrows of federal aviation officials.

Now, the city of Everett, home to the world’s largest aerospace hub and Boeing Co.’s massive jumbo jet factory, might pipe up.

The Everett City Council tonight is scheduled to vote on a resolution urging the county to adhere to its commitments with the federal government to preserve air operations at Paine Field.

“The facts are we have commitments with the Federal Aviation Administration, long-standing ones, that predate many other commitments, going back all the way to the conveyance of Paine Field,” said Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts, who is the resolution’s author. “Those agreements trump all others.”

The resolution comes on the heels of the County Council’s 4-1 vote last week opposing Allegiant Air’s plan to fly two to four MD-80 jets daily from Paine Field to Las Vegas.

Two lead opponents to the airline’s plan, County Councilman Brian Sullivan, who lives in Mukilteo, and County Councilman Mike Cooper, who lives in Edmonds, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

While their vote against the airline drew applause from south county residents who packed the council chambers, it also spurred a warning from the FAA that it could pull funding for runway improvements and other airport projects if the county refuses to negotiate with the airline.

The federal government has spent $52 million on the airport since 1945.

Airport operators who take federal funds are prohibited from discriminating against any type of aviation use, including commercial service.

“The issue is not about Allegiant,” Roberts said. “The issue is access to air space and the Federal Aviation Administration has said in their letters ‘You must negotiate in good faith.’ “

Roberts is the vice chairman of the state’s Aviation Planning Council, an advisory board created by the Legislature to look at long-term air planning.

He said his work on the resolution is not being done on behalf of the panel.

While airport operators are not obligated to pay for improvements to accommodate airlines, they must provide space if it’s available, according to the FAA.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant last month wrote the county expressing interest in running flights from Paine Field to Las Vegas.

County Executive Aaron Reardon and three of five County Council members quickly opposed the plan. They told the airline in a letter that the county would not use public money to pay for improvements to the airport’s small terminal or other facilities.

Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynn­wood, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway have fought the expansion of passenger service at the airport. Those cities say noise from commercial flights would harm their neighborhoods.

Some county business leaders favor air service, saying it would benefit the economy and provide the state’s fastest-growing county with an alternative to the crowded Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Everett, the county seat and neighbor of Paine Field, has remained largely silent on the controversy.

In October, the city hired a consultant for $70,000 to conduct a cost-benefit study, weighing benefits to businesses and residents against potential problems for neighborhoods.

Everett City Council members are expected to take a stance on commercial flights after the report’s release in June.

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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