EVERETT — Southwest Airlines grabbed the last available passenger capacity at what promises to be a bustling air terminal under construction at Paine Field.
Southwest announced Thursday it plans up to five daily flights from the Snohomish County-owned airport when the terminal opens later this year. It did not disclose destinations. Earlier, Alaska Airlines said it plans 13 daily flights and United Airlines said it plans six flights. In all, there could be as many as 24 passenger flights a day from Paine Field.
In making the announcement, Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary C. Kelly noted that the Everett terminal, with just two gates, has limited space.
“There are only five daily departures left,” Kelly said during a conference call about the company’s quarterly financial results. “If we don’t move on this, we may lose the opportunity.”
Propeller Airports, a private developer, broke ground in June on the 27,000-square-foot passenger terminal adjacent to the airport’s control tower.
“We’re full,” Propeller Airports CEO Brett Smith confirmed Thursday. “That’s it, there are no more airline announcements. Any other airline that comes will be told there’s no more room.”
Other airlines were interested in flying out of Paine Field, too, Smith said. He was surprised by the amount of interest.
“It’s akin to trying to get into a small restaurant,” Smith said of the terminal’s two gates. “There are only so many tables. The airlines realized if they weren’t getting in now, they weren’t getting in at all.”
Smith, whose company has moved its headquarters from New York to Everett, thinks the three airlines will prove to be an economic boon for Everett and the county. He expects 1,600 to 1,700 passenger boardings per day at the terminal. The flights planned by the three carriers could accommodate nearly 2,350 passengers per day if all the planes were full and if Southwest used its highest-capacity jets.
Does the initial rush mean that Propeller soon will look to expand at Paine? No, Smith said. The terminal needs to prove itself. Airlines could leave as easily as they’ve arrived if demand isn’t what was expected.
Paine Field is attractive for a number of reasons, Kelly said during the conference call. For one, traffic makes it difficult for people in Snohomish County to get to Sea-Tac Airport. Southwest has had success with secondary airports elsewhere. And the airline wants to expand its presence in the greater Seattle area.
“I’m excited about it,” Kelly said. “It’s something two years ago that wasn’t really on our radar. I think it will be a nice opportunity and a real plus for our customers in the Seattle metro area.”
Although Southwest has not yet announced destinations, the list of cities it already serves with nonstop flights from Seattle might be an indicator: Baltimore-Washington, Chicago (Midway), Dallas (Love Field), Denver, Houston (Hobby), Kansas City, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Nashville, Oakland, Phoenix, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Diego and San Jose.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a statement that he welcomes Southwest Airlines.
“Since Paine Field is the economic engine for our region, we will do all we can to make commercial service a success,” Somers said. “We now have three airlines that will be serving our residents and helping to strengthen our economy. We look forward to a strong partnership with these airlines.”
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said she’s thrilled that commercial flights will be taking off from Paine Field before the year is out. She noted that the new terminal is at capacity, adding “that’s a clear confirmation of the need for commercial air service” from Everett.
“With three airlines providing flights from Paine Field, our residents and business travelers will soon have quick and convenient access to hubs around the country,” Franklin said. “That’s a huge win for our region, and it also creates a new path for future economic development.”
She predicted air service “will attract new investors and family-wage jobs, and Everett will be ready to make the most of those possibilities.”
The decision by Southwest to start flying out of Paine Field was welcome news to Economic Alliance Snohomish County President and CEO Patrick Pierce.
“I think it’s great now we have three airlines,” Pierce said. “That clearly shows the demand and interest. I’m excited to see (Southwest’s) destinations later this year.”
Economic Alliance sees the opportunity to urge businesses in the cities served by the three carriers to expand or move operations to Snohomish County. Passenger service here also is an incentive for existing businesses to stay here, Pierce said. Another plus is better access to this area by tourists.
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines on Jan. 16 announced it plans 13 daily flights to eight West Coast destinations — Portland, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. The Seattle-based company in May became the first airline to commit to flying from Everett.
United Airlines in August announced plans for six daily flights to San Francisco and Denver. From those hubs, Chicago-based United serves cities throughout the world.
All three carriers also serve Sea-Tac Airport, and Alaska flies from Bellingham International Airport, as well. In a ranking by passenger boardings, Southwest is the nation’s third-biggest airline, behind American and Delta. United is fourth and Alaska is fifth.
Southwest now serves 99 cities with a fleet of 687 airplanes — all Renton-built Boeing 737s. United and United Express serve 338 airports with a mixed fleet of 1,251 airplanes. Alaska and its regional subsidiary, Horizon Air, serve 118 destinations with a mixed fleet of 281 airplanes.
Southwest’s 737s can carry between 159 to 181 passengers. United and Alaska said they plan to fly smaller Embraer 175 regional jets. Those planes seat 76 passengers.
Ticket prices will be determined by the airlines. Airports generally offer similar prices at different airports in the same metropolitan areas, said Smith, Propeller’s CEO.
Subject to government approvals, air service is expected from the terminal by fall.
Paine Field already averages more than 300 daily takeoffs and landings, mostly from general aviation and aerospace companies.