Horizon Air proposes flights from Paine Field

EVERETT — Horizon Air on Thursday announced that it wants to offer daily round-trip flights from Paine Field to Portland, Ore., and Spokane before next summer, becoming the second airline in the past six months to express interest in flying from the Snohomish County- managed airport.

Supporters of commercial passenger flights are celebrating the announcement by the ­Seattle-based airline, the regional sister company to Alaska Airlines.

In May, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air also announced interest in regular service between Paine Field and Las Vegas.

“Horizon’s announcement is welcome news to the thousands of people who are tired of fighting hours of traffic to get to and from Sea-Tac,” said Greg Tisdel, co-chairman of Fly Paine Field, a group that advocates commercial air service at Paine Field.

The announcement disappointed opponents of commercial service at Paine Field, who worry that air traffic would bring noise and air pollution to neighborhoods surrounding the airport and harm property values. Regular commercial flights could also hamper Boeing, which uses Paine Field, said Greg Hauth, vice president of Save Our Communities.

“It doesn’t make sense economically, socially or politically,” he said. “It’s just mind- boggling that you would want to ­cannibalize Sea-Tac, and crowd out and possibly upset our largest employer, as well as upsetting homeowners.”

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said he has spoken with Boeing Co. officials and is confident that commercial carriers would not negatively affect operations at the city’s largest employer.

Horizon Air would likely operate at least two daily round-trip flights to both Portland and Spokane, said Dan Russo, a Horizon spokesman.

Russo said the airline believes there’s enough demand in Snohomish County — the state’s third-most-populous county with nearly 700,000 people — to justify additional flights at Paine Field without necessarily reducing service from Sea-Tac International Airport.

“We see it as a way to capture passengers closer to where they live, just as we do in smaller communities like Bellingham and Yakima,” Russo said.

Horizon’s managers are sensitive to community noise concerns, he said, and the airline plans to use its 76-seat Bombardier Q400 high-speed turboprops, which he said are among the quietest commercial aircraft in the world.

Horizon’s interest in Paine Field comes less than a month after the Everett City Council approved a resolution in support of scheduled commercial flights at Paine Field.

Russo said the council’s decision was “encouraging” and that it came as the airline was approaching a decision whether to pursue flights at Paine Field.

Before any commercial airline can offer flights from Paine Field, it first must negotiate a lease with Snohomish County. Key facilities would also need to be built: A commercial terminal to accommodate a federal Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint, a passenger waiting area, a counter for ticket sales and restrooms.

In 2005, the county estimated building a terminal to accommodate two 70-passenger jets at once would cost about $3.2 million.

Proponents say it wouldn’t take long for the county to recover terminal construction costs with revenue from the successful operation of an airline.

County Executive Aaron Reardon, who opposes commercial passenger flights, said the county will negotiate in good faith a lease agreement with Horizon Air, just as it is doing with Allegiant. The county is required to negotiate because it receives federal money for the airport.

“In public service, you often times have to put your own personal interest aside to execute your job,” Reardon said.

Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine said he doesn’t believe interest will stop with Horizon. He suspects other airlines may leave Sea-Tac, hurting the airport’s ability to retire debt on its much-disputed third runway, which recently opened to traffic.

If that happens, “somebody’s got to explain to the Port of Seattle how it’s going to pay its bonds,” he said.

Stephanson said Paine Field’s transformation into a commercial airport could help improve Everett’s prospect of landing high-wage employers and also retain current jobs.

“The announcement is indicative of the emerging significance of Everett and Snohomish County” to the state’s and region’s economies, he said.

Other airlines with regional service said Snohomish County is not on their radar but did not rule out future consideration.

Jet Blue has no current plans on pursuing flights at Paine Field, said Sebastian White, a spokesman with the New York-based airline.

“At the same time, Sea-Tac isn’t a cheap airport to operate out of, and we might consider alternatives,” he said.

Southwest Airlines is currently satisfied with its operations at Sea-Tac, said Marilee McInnis, a spokeswoman with Dallas-based company.

This isn’t the first time Horizon came knocking at the county’s door.

In 1997, the airline unveiled plans to offer four or five flights every weekday between Paine Field and Portland.

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

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