Brett Smith is CEO of Propeller Airports, which operates the passenger terminal at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Brett Smith is CEO of Propeller Airports, which operates the passenger terminal at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Passenger service resumes at Paine Field on Saturday

For now, the flights will be few and the frills are gone at Everett’s airline terminal.

EVERETT — For now, the frills are gone.

The giant jar of jelly beans and the grand piano in the baggage area — history. Free parking for ticket holders — also gone.

“We have to make money somehow,” said Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports.

The privately owned company built and operates the passenger terminal at Paine Field, and on Saturday commercial flights return to Everett after a 10-week shutdown for work that replaced the pavement on the aircraft side of the facility.

It will be a slim schedule, just three flights per day between the two carriers that share the terminal’s two gates.

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 coronavirus pandemic curtailed most air travel, United and Alaska served 11 destinations with 24 departures and 24 arrivals per day.

“I’m hoping they add more flights,” said Smith, who stopped taking a salary in March.

On the plus side, Beecher’s Restaurant and the Upper Case Bar in the terminal’s main lounge, which closed when travel dwindled, will re-open for business. And Smith promises to resume his trips to a wholesale floral market in Seattle for fresh flowers, a lounge staple.

He also promises a relentless cleaning schedule, temperature screenings and has plans to install a hospital-grade air filtration system.

“I fully believe we will lose money for the foreseeable future, and we’re prepared to do that, but we’re going to be the cleanest and safest airport in the country,” Smith said.

He’s not kidding. On a recent afternoon, a maintenance worker roamed the terminal, sweeping the floor of the empty waiting area.

Terminal duty manager Tom Hoctor sweeps the baggage pickup area as he helps prepare for passenger service to return Saturday at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Terminal duty manager Tom Hoctor sweeps the baggage pickup area as he helps prepare for passenger service to return Saturday at Paine Field. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Face coverings? Don’t leave home without them. Masks are mandatory on Alaska and United flights, and Propeller requires them in the terminal, too.

“If you’re not wearing a mask, you’re not allowed in the building,” said Smith. “I don’t care whether you have a ticket or not.”

As if to make his point, he looped a paper mask onto the statue of 2nd Lt. Topliff Paine — the airfield’s namesake — which stands outside the terminal.

A statue of Paine Field’s namesake, Everett native and commercial aviation pioneer Topliff Olin Paine, sports a mask at Paine Field Terminal. Masks will be required when the airport reopens to passenger service Saturday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

A statue of Paine Field’s namesake, Everett native and commercial aviation pioneer Topliff Olin Paine, sports a mask at Paine Field Terminal. Masks will be required when the airport reopens to passenger service Saturday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Before passengers enter security screening, their temperature will be checked by a heat-sensing camera. In April, before it temporarily closed, the Everett terminal became one of first in the country to install a touchless fever-detection system. If a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more is detected, the passenger is screened a second time. If they have a fever, the airlines are alerted. From there, “it’s up to the airline to decide what they want to do,” Smith said. The detection system caught the eye of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials, who borrowed it while the Paine Field terminal was closed, Smith said.

Airports around the country are trying to make a comeback after a global travel slump decimated the airlines and travel industry. Passenger counts fell by 80% or more throughout the U.S. Smaller airports like Paine Field were hit especially hard as carriers slashed schedules, or ended service altogether, and grounded thousands of planes.

With COVID-19 resurgent in some parts of the U.S., it’s still touch and go.

Many domestic carriers are flying less than half their normal schedule. In the past week or so, some airlines have backed off plans to add more flights because of the spike in COVID-19 cases. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents the world’s airlines, predicts that air travel won’t bounce back to 2019 levels until 2024.

On April 14, the Transportation Security Administration screened just 87,500 passengers and crew, a record low in recent years and a sharp decline from the normal of 2 million to 3 million screened daily.

The numbers have slowly risen since. On Tuesday, the agency screened 700,000 passengers — an improvement over daily counts in the spring but nowhere near the 2.6 million passengers it screened a year ago Tuesday.

The drop-off in passengers at the Everett terminal seemed especially steep, given its rapid ascent after opening in 2019.

On March 4, a year after opening, the passenger terminal had served a million plus travelers and logged more than 8,560 flights. Two months later, the number of flights had fallen to three a day, and passengers were a trickle.

In late May, Propeller received federal approval to shut it down for previously planned ramp repair. The project had been scheduled to take four months while service continued, but with air travel curtailed, closing altogether for 10 weeks made better sense, Smith said.

Construction crews replaced the original asphalt pavement near the gates. The surface had proved to be structurally unsound, plagued by bumps and divots. “We didn’t know that until we started operating,” said Smith.

Propeller paid for the repairs, a significant investment, Smith said.

“This is a 30-year fix,” he said of the decision to pour concrete, which is more expensive than asphalt but also more durable.

Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, talks about the new ramp at Paine Field Terminal. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, talks about the new ramp at Paine Field Terminal. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Smith is proud of the fact that Propeller’s 20-person staff remained on the payroll during the 10-week closure.

“There were no layoffs,” he said. “We’ve been spending this time bringing the terminal back to a pristine state.”

During the closure, Smith took a breather but has returned to the terminal to make sure everything goes smoothly.

“We’re paying the rent,” Smith said, adding later, “but we don’t expect to show a profit for at least two years.”

Still, he’s optimistic.

“You have to believe that people will eventually start flying again,” Smith said. “I think it’s going to take a while to come back. We’re going to ride this out.”

The same features that attracted people in the first place to the small but elegant terminal will bring them back, he said. That includes ditching the dismal journey to Sea-Tac Airport.

Edmonds resident Jim Grant, for one, will be happy to see the terminal reopen on Saturday. If only it had been a day earlier.

Grant will be driving his wife to Sea-Tac on Friday for a Denver flight, a car trip he prefers to avoid. “You never know what can happen in that traffic,” Grant said of the 60-mile round trip.

“Let’s hope we never close again,” said Smith.

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

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

MyMyToyStore.com owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Near-death experience planted seeds for downtown Everett toy store

Former attorney Tom Harrison survived 9/11. It caused him to ask what’s important in life. Today, he runs MyMyToyStore.

Sean Jones, membership executive of Everett's Freedom Boat Club, helps club member Carolyn Duncan load equipment onto her boat before she and a friend head out crabbing onThursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at the Port of Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New Everett franchise offers boats at Everett Marina

Freedom Boat Club’s newest Washington location is in Everett, with six boats available to its members.

Devin Ryan, left to right, talks with Donald Whitley and Drew Yager before a test ride at Bicycle Centres Wednesday in Everett, Washington on August 24, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
New hands take the handlebars for Bicycle Centres

Longtime employees Devin Ryan, Aron Chaudiere and Ryan Brown bought the business that’s been around since 1976.

A truck drives past a sign displaying fuel prices on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Diesel prices stay high for truckers, farmers

Gas prices have fallen steadily this summer, but diesel costs have started to climb again.

FILE - Test engineer Jacob Wilcox pulls his arm out of a glove box used for processing sodium at TerraPower, a company developing and building small nuclear reactors, Jan. 13, 2022, in Everett, Wash. A major economic bill headed to the president has “game-changing” incentives for the nuclear energy industry, experts say, and those tax credits are even more substantial if a facility is sited in a community where a coal plant is closing. Bill Gates' company, TerraPower, plans to build an advanced, nontraditional nuclear reactor and employ workers from a local coal-fired power plant scheduled to close soon. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Everett nuclear research facility gets $750 million infusion

Bellevue’s TerraPower, which operates an Everett facility, got a hefty investment to fund research.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Business briefs: Leadership Snohomish County names new executive director

Plus a new short-term, career programs at Edmonds College, state grants for small businesses and more.

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop, is closing the arcade this fall. (Photo by David Welton)
Arcade owner to pull plug on beloved Whidbey Island business

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, recently decided he’ll call it quits this fall.

Jennifer Sadinsky is the owner of Grayhorse Mercantile, one of Langley’s newest stores. (David Welton)
Shopkeeper brings taste of Europe to Whidbey Island

A first-time business owner’s dream of opening a cheese shop became a reality this year.

Toggle’s Bottle Shop is closed permanently on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Citing landlord dispute, Toggle’s closes in downtown Everett

The popular taproom shuttered Sunday. “Everett needs a cooperative landlord-tenant relationship in the commercial district,” a co-owner said.

The Think Tank Cowork building located in Everett's historic downtown district has been beautifully preserved and updated.
Bridge the work and work-from-home divide with Coworking

Shared workspace in Downtown Everett offers the amenities you want + flexible packages

Rick Winter (left) and Gary Yang, the founders of the former UniEnergy Technologies, stand with one their latest batteries, the Reflex, August 10, 2022. (Dan DeLong/InvestigateWest)
‘Chaotic mess’: Clean energy promises imploded at Mukilteo battery maker

UniEnergy Technologies absorbed millions in public funds, then suddenly went dark. The company is accused of providing tech to China.

Eviation's all-electric plane in flight Tuesday morning in Moses Lake, Washington, on Sept. 27, 2022. (Eviation)
Arlington’s all-electric plane, Alice, takes first test flight

Eviation Aircraft’s battery-powered plane logs successful first flight from Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake.