An Alaska Airlines plane takes off from Paine Field on Wednesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)                                An Alaska Airlines plane takes off from Paine Field on Wednesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

An Alaska Airlines plane takes off from Paine Field on Wednesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald) An Alaska Airlines plane takes off from Paine Field on Wednesday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Alaska CEO: ‘We really need to look at growing Paine Field’

At a conference, Brad Tilden speculated about expanded passenger service, but flights are capped — for now.

EVERETT — The CEO of Alaska Airlines would like to see Paine Field’s new two-gate passenger terminal expanded to five or six gates.

But CEO Brad Tilden’s wish is just that — a wish.

Both the terminal’s operator and the airport say there aren’t any plans to increase air service capacity, which is capped by the federal government at 24 daily departures and 24 arrivals.

“We haven’t been approached by anyone regarding expansion and it would be premature to discuss it,” said Scott North, spokesman for the Snohomish County-owned airport.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines offers 18 daily departures from the Paine Field passenger terminal, which is operated by privately held Propeller Airports. United Airlines offers six daily departures.

Tilden made the remark last week at a Puget Sound Business Journal event focusing on the region’s long-range infrastructure needs. The Business Journal characterized the gathering as a “free, flowing, unscripted conversation about growth in the Seattle area.”

“It’s quite good,” Tilden is quoted as saying, referring to Alaska’s success at Paine Field. “It’s like a private jet facility, and it’s doing very well. I think we really need to look at growing Paine Field from two gates to — I don’t know what the next jump is — five or six gates.”

In this 2016 photo, Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden talks to reporters at the airline’s corporate headquarters in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

In this 2016 photo, Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden talks to reporters at the airline’s corporate headquarters in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Alaska Airlines spokesman Ray Lane stressed that the CEO’s remarks were “the sharing of some ideas during a question-and-answer” session.

“His emphasis is one that’s central to Sea-Tac,” Lane said in an email, referring to Sea-Tac Airport south of Seattle — namely, “growth and capacity at our main hub, and how can congestion be alleviated, possibly by using other airports.”

“If any specific plans are put into motion, we would follow the required processes,” Lane said.

Passenger service at Paine is capped by the Federal Aviation Administration. A proposal to increase the number of passenger flights would trigger a review by federal regulators and, if the most recent environmental assessment process is an indicator, renewed community controversy over airport use.

Propeller Airports built and operates the passenger terminal under a lease agreement with the airport owner, Snohomish County. Since it opened March 4, the terminal has served more than 600,000 passengers.

Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, thanked Alaska’s CEO for his show of support: “We appreciate Mr. Tilden’s continued confidence in Paine Field and agree that commercial service here has been tremendously successful. We currently have no plans to expand capacity at the airport and are keeping our focus on providing our best-in-class experience for existing customers.”

Tilden’s remarks were the second time in less than three months that Alaska Airlines has publicly praised the new passenger operation.

Over the summer, Andrew Harrison, an Alaska Airlines executive vice president and the chief commercial officer, said the company was “impressed and excited” with how service at Paine Field has gone.

Demand for service “has been very very good,” said Harrison, who made the remarks during a second-quarter earnings teleconference on July 25.

Alaska Airlines is scheduled to report third-quarter earnings on Oct. 24.

Last week’s “unscripted” discussion also saw Tilden “float(ing) the idea of a military-commercial airport at Joint Base Lewis-McChord” south of Tacoma, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported.

Tilden’s idea isn’t so far-fetched if you look at a map of the region and available land — which is exactly what state lawmakers are doing.

The Legislature authorized the formation of an airport-siting committee this year to identify six possible locations for a second Sea-Tac-caliber airport. Shane Jones, an Alaska Airlines vice president for airport real estate and development, will serve as a member.

Studies say demand for airline service in the Puget Sound region is expected to double by 2050. To meet that goal, the airport-siting committee is also responsible for developing a timeline to ensure a facility is functional by 2040. Population and economic growth are key drivers. The number of people in the Puget Sound region is forecast to increase 40% over the next 30 years, according to an ongoing Regional Aviation Baseline Study.

By 2050, the metropolitan population, which now stands at about 4.1 million, is expected to reach 5.8 million, the study estimates.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods.

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