MUKILTEO — Allegiant Air beat Horizon Air by several months in seeking to fly out of Paine Field, but the airline is perfectly happy to share the airport.
“From what (Horizon) announced it sounds like a good thing,” said Tyri Squyres, spokeswoman for Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air. “It’ll be a nice complement to what we’re proposing.”
Horizon Air, based in Seattle, announced last week it would like to operate at least two daily, round-trip flights from Paine Field to Portland, Ore., and Spokane by next summer.
Allegiant expressed interest to Snohomish County in May in flying two to four times per week to Las Vegas from Paine Field. Flights to other West Coast cities could be added later. The county owns and operates the airport.
Allegiant has been negotiating with the county since then and now says it’s unlikely that any flights will begin until 2009.
Squyres said there’s usually a lag time of 60 to 90 days between an announcement that service will begin and when flights actually take off and land.
When Allegiant announced its interest, four of the five Snohomish County councilmen, along with County Executive Aaron Reardon, voiced their opposition to the plan. Five cities in south Snohomish County have approved resolutions opposing the flights. Three of the five county councilmen live in that part of the county: Brian Sullivan in Mukilteo, Mike Cooper in Edmonds and Dave Gossett in Mountlake Terrace.
The other cities to oppose flights are Lynnwood and Woodway.
Everett has approved a resolution supporting passenger flights at the airport. Marysville and Lake Stevens have approved resolutions asking the county to negotiate in good faith with the airlines to provide service.
Federal law requires the county to negotiate with potential service providers if it wants to continue to receive federal grant money for airport improvements. Snohomish County has received and spent about $60 million on runways, taxiways, lights and other projects since it took over the airport from the U.S. Air Force in the late 1960s.
Still, the law does not require the county to pay for improvements to the terminal, roads or other facilities to help an airline provide service. Some county councilmen have said they’re firmly against the county providing any such funds.
The current Paine Field terminal is 525 square feet and has room for up to 15 passengers, airport director Dave Waggoner has said. In 2005, the county estimated building a terminal to accommodate two 70-passenger jets simultaneously 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.
“We are working very hard to finalize our understanding of the physical plant needs of the airlines, the expected costs of those facility changes and any revenue that would result from commercial air service,” county spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said. He added that the county is talking with the federal Transportation Security Administration about what it would need to ensure safety of passengers potentially flying from Paine Field.
“Clearly, with Horizon now in the picture, we are reviewing to see what, if any changes are needed to previous discussions,” Schwarzen said.
Each airline has its own reasons for venturing into a new market in a time when fuel prices are rising and many other airlines are struggling.
Allegiant Air has a niche market, flying many of its passengers to recreational destinations such as Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla. It operates 100 routes out of 61 airports, including from Bellingham to Las Vegas and other West Coast cities.
In September, its flights were 92 percent full — its highest figure ever, Squyres said.
“We stayed in the 90s all summer,” she said.
Horizon Air is cutting back in other markets that have proven less profitable, officials said. The airline is a subsidiary of the Alaska Air Group, the parent of Alaska Airlines, but the two airlines operate independently and have separate balance sheets, officials said. Alaska Airlines recently announced plans to cut back flights.
Horizon recently stopped service to Prince George, B.C., and North Bend and Klamath Falls in southern Oregon.
It’s adding flights, however, between Los Angeles and Flagstaff and Prescott, Ariz., and plans to add seasonal service from Los Angeles to Mammoth Mountain, Calif., a popular ski destination.
“We’re shifting around a little bit, rearranging some of the flying we do,” said Dan Russo, vice president for marketing and communications for Horizon.
Still, Russo said they expect only a small portion of their flights will be taking off or landing at Paine Field.
“We’re taking the long view of things. With fuel prices up, sometimes flying can be a better option than driving.”