With Alaska announcement come high hopes for Paine Field

EVERETT — There are high hopes of turning Paine Field into a Golden Gate Bridge of sorts — one that soars 30,000 feet in the sky.

Or, to conjure up a different image, the Snohomish County airport could become a pipeline to Silicon Valley venture capital.

Those are some of the visions flitting through the minds of local business and political leaders, after Alaska Airlines last week became the first carrier to commit to serving a future Paine Field passenger terminal. Alaska plans to start service in the fall of 2018, but is unlikely to reveal specific routes until early next year.

That hasn’t stopped speculation. Flights from Everett to California’s Bay Area are among the more enticing prospects. Other locales on the wish lists include Los Angeles, Portland and Spokane. A few sunny vacation spots beckon as well.

“You need to go to where the money and the businesses are created. Those are located in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles. They’re coming up here because they need access to cheap power and abundant water,” said Tom Hoban, CEO of Coast Real Estate Services. “Think of Silicon Valley as the Wall Street of the West. It’s just big bundles of money waiting to invest.”

Flights to San Jose would be ideal, from Hoban’s point of view, but San Francisco or Oakland would do just fine.

Alaska anticipates operating nine daily flights, taking up roughly half the capacity of the planned two-gate terminal. Propeller Airports of New York City signed a lease deal for airport land two years ago and secured a grading permit in April. Groundbreaking is expected in June.

Propeller CEO Brett Smith said he’s happy to have Alaska and expects more airline announcements to come.

Hoban has a prime perch to see what draws a business to one location versus another. He’s often on the front end of conversations when executives size up the area’s potential from afar or travel here to view properties up close.

Often, the deal is dead by the time an out-of-state client makes it up to Everett, after slogging through I-5 traffic from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he said. That has pushed some businesses south, to communities such as the Kent Valley, Renton or Federal Way. Other execs who otherwise might have been receptive to Snohomish County have opted instead for places such as Salt Lake City.

“Those opportunities, if we get a Bay Area service, will open up for us now,” said Hoban, who also writes a column for The Herald Business Journal, which is owned by The Daily Herald parent company Sound Publishing.

Where Alaska flies from Paine Field depends on how the company wants to use the airport and how it answers key questions, said George Hamlin, a longtime aerospace-industry insider and owner of Hamlin Transportation Consulting. The airline focuses on direct flights, rather than connecting through hub airports. Sea-Tac is its busiest airport, with dozens of flights every day.

Hamlin put good odds on Paine Field service to major West Coast cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego or Las Vegas.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson also likes the idea of a direct San Diego link, given the sizable Navy presence in both towns.

“I do think, even though the Navy has stayed neutral on this issue, they do a lot of training in San Diego,” Stephanson said. “My sense is that maybe personnel will use this regional airport a significant amount.”

For fun? The mayor would be on board with Palm Springs, California, Reno or somewhere in Hawaii.

Washington State University might add to the appeal of a Spokane connection, now that the school based in nearby Pullman has opened WSU North Puget Sound at Everett.

A Portland route would take Everett travelers to a hub for international flights. Stephanson brought up that possibility, as did Patrick Pierce, president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

“We’re a fast-growing county in a fast-growing region,” Pierce said. “Anything to open up more transportation options is a good thing, in our eyes.”

Aerospace and medical device manufacturers stand to benefit from air service, as their employees meet with clients throughout the United States and beyond. There could be customer pipeline for local tourism: touring aircraft museums or the Boeing plant, visiting the Tulalip Resort Casino, hiking the Cascade foothills or going whale-watching.

Passenger service appears ever closer, but hurdles remain. Alaska still needs federal government approval for its service.

Mukilteo hasn’t given up its long-running legal fight, either. Attorneys for the city have asked the state Supreme Court to review its challenge to Propeller’s lease agreement with the county, arguing for more environmental studies. The city and its allies have lost in the courts. They hope to void the lease.

At the same time, Mukilteo leaders have struck up a dialogue with Propeller. The city has sought to minimize disruptions to neighborhoods by limiting late-night and early morning flights, as well as the routes pilots use.

Traffic is another worry. While Paine Field air service might take a few cars off I-5 that otherwise would have headed to Sea-Tac, it promises to add to existing congestion on Mukilteo Speedway. To improve the situation, Mukilteo plans to build a new parallel arterial to carry some of the load. The Harbour Reach Corridor Project would be built out by 2021 at a cost of about $16 million.

Reporter Dan Catchpole contributed to this report.

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