The Dreamlifter Operations Center at Paine Field. It is next to the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center. (Janice Podsada / Herald file)

The Dreamlifter Operations Center at Paine Field. It is next to the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center. (Janice Podsada / Herald file)

FedEx said to be in talks to take over Dreamlifter center

The air cargo carrier would need federal approval to establish regular service from Paine Field in Everett.

EVERETT —The Boeing Co. is reportedly in talks with FedEx to sub-let the Dreamlifter facility at Paine Field, which Boeing leases from the Snohomish County airport.

“Boeing is close to finalizing a deal to transfer the lease of its Dreamlifter Operations Center … to air cargo carrier FedEx, according to a document reviewed by The Seattle Times that outlines terms of the discussion,” the newspaper reported Monday.

When contacted Tuesday, the principal parties weren’t talking, but airport officials at Paine Field said they have not received a request to transfer the lease, which would be subject to review. The county-owned airport owns the Dreamlifter building, which is just south of the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center on the Mukilteo side of the airport.

The Dreamlifter center opened in 2013. Snohomish County foot the cost for the $30 million facility. But primary operations were moved to Boeing’s South Carolina assembly plant in 2018. The Paine Field facility consists of three stalls for big airplanes, 25,000 square feet of warehouse space, 10,000 square feet of office space and an aviation refueling station.

“If Boeing requests an assignment of their lease, the county has a process to review their proposal,” airport director Arif Ghouse said Tuesday. “No alternative to that lease has been presented to Paine Field.”

Any air cargo operations at the Everett airport would require approval from federal regulators, which could involve an environmental review — as was required before commercial passenger service was allowed, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The FAA’s Certificate Management Office in Tennessee has not received a request from FedEx about operating at Paine Field, the agency said on Tuesday.

Boeing declined to comment on Tuesday about the Dreamlifter Operations Center but said it is committed to the Puget Sound region. “We have a larger workforce and operational footprint here than anywhere else in the world, and we have spent billions of dollars investing in long-term infrastructure, development programs and our teams,” a company statement said.

“FedExcontinuously evaluates opportunities that can enhance our ability to serve our customers. Per company policy, we do not comment on specifics of projects until all aspects have been finalized,” a company statement said.

The Dreamlifter’s primary use was transporting Boeing 787 airplane components. But operations at the Dreamlifter center have significantly cooled since Boeing shifted all production of the 787 model to the company’s South Carolina assembly plant in March.

When 787 models were built at the huge Everett assembly plant, local residents said it was normal to hear the thunderous Dreamlifters arrive and depart two or more times a day. Now, the specially modified 747-400s touch down just three times a month at Paine Field to deliver the nose section of the 767 from Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas, the company has said.

The Times report said that the lease negotiations document “indicates the transfer is expected to be complete this summer, though FedEx has told Boeing it will take time after the lease is transferred to get its cargo flights up and running. To sweeten the deal, even though FedEx should have taken over the lease by Nov. 1, Boeing has agreed to make a $1.8 million bond payment due on that date as part of the annual rent.”

Ghouse, the Paine Field director, said that Paine Field, “a center for the global aerospace industry … will continue to support appropriate aerospace and aviation uses of airport property.”

“As a publicly-owned facility, we will always work to provide jobs and economic benefits to the community,” Ghouse said.

The hangar’s use as a potential FedEx delivery hub raises the specter of greater noise, traffic volume and congestion around the Everett airport.

Michael Moore, president of Save our Communities, a citizens group that opposed commercial passenger airline service at the airport, said the potential for air cargo operations is another disappointing development that could bring “noisy air cargo flights that typically fly late at night or early in the morning,” Moore said in an email.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson expressed concern Tuesday about noise levels at the possible FedEx facility.

“I’m disappointed,” she said. “If there are nighttime cargo operations, that can be the most impactful noise.”

Gregerson said she hopes the county is able to work with FedEx to avoid those late-night sounds.

Paine Field handles about 300 daily flights, including passenger flights for the new Everett terminal, private aviation, Boeing test and delivery flights and aircraft bound for repairs and maintenance at Aviation Technical Services.

Alaska and United airlines currently operate seven daily flights from Everett, but the terminal operator hopes to see a return to the 2019 level of 24 daily flights.

The FedEx fleet, which consists of nearly 700 aircraft, includes Boeing 767s and Airbus A300s, wide-body freighters that are much larger than the single-aisle, 75-seat Embraer E175 passenger jets currently flown by Alaska and United.

FedEx currently conducts regional cargo operations from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where it “operates an average of seven flights per day in and out of that airport, with fewer on weekends,” Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper told The Seattle Times.

The cargo carrier’s potential arrival at Paine Field had some wondering: Could FedEx move its regional operation to Paine Field, freeing space for more passenger flights at Sea-Tac, which, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was approaching capacity?

Demand for airline travel and air cargo in the Puget Sound region is expected to surge and exceed Sea-Tac’s capacity by 2027, analysts have reported. The need for air cargo capacity is expected to swell to 1.3 million tons by 2050, more than double current levels.

Projections for passenger “enplanements” — the number of people departing on a scheduled flight — is also expected to more than double in the next 30 years, from 24 million in 2018 to more than 50 million in 2050.

Paine Field made a short list of airports that Washington officials are eyeing for future expansion to meet growing air travel and air cargo demands.

A state commission named the Snohomish County-owned airport as one of six potential candidates for air service expansion, alongside Arlington Municipal Airport, Bremerton National Airport, Sanderson Field in Shelton, Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor and Ed Carlson Memorial Field in Lewis County.

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

Herald writer Ellen Dennis contributed to this report.

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