Airline service flies ahead

Snohomish County’s preserved-in-amber MO is taking a beating.

In August, Washington State University opened its doors to mechanical engineering undergrads at Everett Community College’s University Center. And on Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration OK’d commercial air service at Paine Field, a mere 76 years after President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration underwrote the airport’s construction.

Higher education and a two-gate air terminal? Make no mistake: The political class and its amen corner are scheming to emulate a metropolis with similar amenities (Walla Walla, for example. Or, God forbid, Bellingham.)

Tuesday’s step forward comes four years after Allegiant Air and Horizon requested commercial air service (In September, Horizon officials said the airline had lost interest — a too-long engagement with a fickle suitor.) Consistent with two earlier reports, the FAA determined that there are no significant environmental or noise impacts.

The FAA’s Final Environmental Assessment was a three-year slog. Over the past quarter century, Paine Field has become a case study in studies. This includes the Boeing Master Plan for facility expansion for the 777, the Southwest Everett/Paine Field Master Plan and EIS, and the Paine Field Master Plan noise studies and updates.

There are additional hoops, with Snohomish County required to review proposed flights under the rubric of the State Environmental Policy Act. Mukilteo is likely to oppose the decision in federal court, The Herald’s Bill Sheets reports, an option that will delight deep-pocketed litigators and provide political cover to commercial opponents when the appeal inevitably craters.

Boeing’s future is the political football in the Paine Field set-to. Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, a conscientious advocate for his city, believes the company will bolt if commercial service is approved. We know the opposite to be true. The Big Kahuna, Boeing only needs to whisper opposition to freeze-frame the process. Not only has Boeing declared its support, but it also doesn’t want to imperil Paine Field’s sacrosanct FAA funding, a genuine risk if service is denied. Commercial service at an airport, which currently runs at only 48 percent capacity, will be a boon for Snohomish County families as well as the private sector.

In a Herald Viewpoints piece in September, Everett City Councilmember Paul Roberts punctuated the case. “The citizens of Snohomish County, and, for that matter, Skagit and north King County, deserve an alternative to Sea-Tac and Bellingham for air travel. The aerospace industry needs the certainty of continued FAA funding for Paine Field and will also benefit from improved access to the nation’s air system. The local economy will be enhanced with improved air access. We cannot afford to continue spending public dollars fighting this battle.”

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