EVERETT — Before announcing eight West Coast destinations they plan to serve from Paine Field starting this fall, executives at Alaska Airlines took a close look at where passengers from Snohomish County were already flying.
That led them to pick Portland, Phoenix and Las Vegas, as well as five California locales: Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.
“They are some of the most popular (routes) for the Everett community, specifically,” said John Kirby, Alaska’s vice president of capacity planning. “We think it’s going to be very successful.”
Alaska Airlines unveiled the destinations Tuesday in a press release and a later media event at Paine Field. A passenger terminal is now under construction at the south Everett airport, after years of lawsuits and regulatory hurdles. There was a groundbreaking in June. Construction is on schedule to wrap up in July with air service starting in September.
The announced flights would max out capacity at the two-gate terminal.
Seattle-based Alaska last year became the first airline to commit to flying from the future terminal, but waited until now to reveal destinations. At the time, the airline envisioned nine flights per day.
“We received so much positive feedback when we announced the nine flights that we increased it to 13,” Kirby said.
All of the flights, at least initially, will be operated by Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group. Crews would start service with Embraer 175 jets. The E-175 has 76 seats. If demand grows at Paine Field, Alaska could start using versions of the Boeing 737 on some routes, more than doubling capacity.
“We’ll see what happens over time,” said Andrew Harrison, Alaska Airlines’ chief commercial officer. “There are a lot of growth opportunities without adding to frequency and noise.”
Airline executives have said Paine Field offers an appealing alternative for travelers from Snohomish County, and much of the north and central Puget Sound region. As traffic worsens through Seattle, getting to Sea-Tac can take longer than the flight time to many regional destinations.
“They’ll be able to get a lot of hours back in their life flying out of Paine,” Harrison said.
Two destinations that didn’t make the list were Spokane and Hawaii.
Kirby said either one “could be in the mix” depending on demand. Hawaii might make sense as a future seasonal destination.
Tickets will go on sale once there’s a more certain opening date for the terminal.
“Hopefully this spring,” Kirby said.
United Airlines also has announced plans to fly from Everett to San Francisco and Denver. From those hubs, Chicago-based United serves cities throughout the world.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers welcomed Alaska’s announcement.
“As Paine Field becomes a connection to the world, our residents will have more options for business and leisure travel,” Somers said in a prepared statement. “We know that commercial passenger service will have a significant impact both on our economy and on our ability to attract world-class businesses to our region.”
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said the flights should have a major effect, both in terms of economics and convenience.
“This is a fantastic list,” Franklin said. “I think we’re really well-positioned.”
Local business leaders say that companies from other states —and other countries — are often scared away from establishing themselves in Snohomish County after braving I-5 traffic through Seattle. Having regular passenger flights to Paine Field could change the equation. Silicon Valley and the Bay Area present tantalizing access to tech companies and venture capital.
“Being one stop away from the rest of the world is really exciting as we seek to draw interest from global companies,” said Patrick Pierce, CEO and president of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. “There are opportunities at all of those destinations.”
The 27,000-square-foot terminal building is under construction between Paine Field’s administrative offices and the control tower. The project is being carried out by Propeller Airports, which hired Denver-based Fentress Architects to design it and Fisher Construction Group of Burlington to build it. Propeller is based in New York but has established offices in Everett.
The county government runs the airport. Under a lease agreement, Propeller will pay the county a $429,000 annual lease plus a share of flight and parking revenues.
Opposition to the commercial terminal has been persistent in nearby cities, especially Mukilteo.
To minimize noise and other effects, the county is requiring Propeller to seek voluntary agreements with airlines to limit flights late at night and early in the morning. They’re not supposed to allow more than four flights between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in any 24-hour period. The cap won’t apply to unscheduled flights that use the airport because of weather delays, mechanical problems or rerouting.
Late-night and early morning departures or arrivals are unlikely for relatively short West Coast trips, if for no other reason than inconvenience to travelers, officials from Alaska and Propeller said.
Harrison, Alaska’s chief commercial officer, said the company already works out of numerous other smaller communities in the Northwest.
“Our goal will be to be a fantastic neighbor to the community,” he said. “I think they’ll find that we’re a good partner, a listening ear.”
Paine Field already averages about 300 flights per day, from general aviation, the Boeing Co. and other aerospace firms.