From left, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Rep. Rick Larsen, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Brett Smith, Propeller Airport’s CEO, attend the takeoff of the first flight in 10 weeks Saturday afternoon from Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

From left, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Rep. Rick Larsen, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and Brett Smith, Propeller Airport’s CEO, attend the takeoff of the first flight in 10 weeks Saturday afternoon from Paine Field in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lawmakers welcome return of passenger service at Paine Field

Everett’s airline terminal fills with passengers on Saturday; elected officials pledge their support.

EVERETT — The Everett passenger terminal reopened Saturday and commercial airline flights returned to Paine Field after a 10 -week shutdown for ramp repairs.

Passengers, wearing masks and keeping their distance, filled the two-gate terminal once again.

“It’s the greatest thing ever, I don’t have to go through Sea-Tac Airport,” said Teresa Anderson who flew from Denver on United Airlines to visit family in Lake Stevens.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, also a passenger on the Denver flight, the day’s first arrival, had started his day in Washington D.C. On Saturday afternoon, he stepped off the plane to join Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin in marking the event.

“Welcome to the second inaugural — in a year and a half,” Smith joked. “We’re excited to be back.”

At a gathering on the taxiway, elected officials pledged their support for Propeller and the terminal.

“It’s a critical part of our future,” Somers said.

Denver-bound passengers board the first flight in 10 weeks departing Paine Field on Saturday afternoon in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Denver-bound passengers board the first flight in 10 weeks departing Paine Field on Saturday afternoon in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald) Purchase Photo

The private company built and operates the passenger terminal under a lease agreement with Snohomish County, the airport’s owner.

Said Franklin, “It’s an important asset for Everett. We appreciate Propeller’s investment in our community.”

During its first year of operation the terminal served more than a million travelers, or about 3,000 travelers a day.

But those numbers plummeted when the COVID-19 pandemic ensued. With air travel curtailed, the terminal closed in May for ramp repairs, a 10-week, $1.5 million project paid for by Propeller.

Smith said that Propeller’s investors are prepared to support the terminal for as long as it takes.

Larsen, Chair of the House Aviation Committee, co-sponsored the Moving Forward Act, which passed the House last month. The proposed legislation provides additional funding for airports weathering the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re optimistic this will help out Paine Field,” Larsen said.

It uses a funding formula that’s based on 2019 passenger counts, Larsen said.

Paine Field lost out on millions of dollars in CARES Act funds because individual airport grants were based how many passengers they served in 2018. That left Paine Field out in the cold, since airline service at the county-owned airport didn’t begin until March 2019.

Larsen introduced legislation last week to limit the spread of COVID-19 through air travel and ensure the safety of workers and passengers. The Healthy Flights Act would give the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines the authority to require that passengers and airline employees wear masks.

For now, the Everett terminal will offer just three flights a day, but Larsen expressed optimism that air travel will revive.

“It’s three flights today, but it’s going to be four, five,” Larsen said. “It’s going to be a slow comeback, but I have no doubt it will come back.”

United Airlines will operate one daily flight from Paine Field to its Denver hub. Alaska Airlines plans two flights a day — one each to Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Before the pandemic, United and Alaska, which share the terminal, served 11 destinations with 24 departures and 24 arrivals per day.

The terminal reopened Saturday with new rules. Only ticketed passengers can enter the building and everyone must wear a mask. Before passengers enter security screening, their temperature will be checked by a touchless, heat-sensing camera.

“We’re keeping the place clean, we’ve got hand sanitizer everywhere, we check people’s temperatures,” said Smith. “We’re confident we can offer a safe experience that makes people comfortable.”

When asked how he felt watching the first passenger plane in 10 weeks take off Saturday, Smith replied, “It was fine. Now, I want to see one take off every hour.”

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

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