EVERETT — The chance to use Paine Field to fly away on business or vacation suddenly felt much closer Monday as political and business leaders gathered to break ground on a future passenger terminal.
The ceremony followed Alaska Airlines’ announcement in May that it intends to serve Paine Field with at least nine daily flights, starting some time next year. Propeller Airports, the company that’s building the two-gate terminal, received a grading permit in April.
“About 12 months from now, we look forward to welcoming you to the terminal opening,” Propeller CEO Brett Smith said.
The terminal would be the first in operation for Propeller, which is headquartered in New York and has opened an office at Paine Field.
No other carriers have announced plans to fly out of Paine Field, but Smith said there is a lot of interest and to “stay tuned” for more.
The terminal would be able to handle a maximum of about 16 daily flights, Smith said. The interior would include about 30,000 square feet. There also would be parking and rental-car services.
Dignitaries on hand included Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, Alaska CEO Brad Tilden, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers and Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson. Parked in the background as they spoke was a brand-new Embraer 175, one of the two kinds of aircraft that Seattle-based Alaska intends to fly out of Paine Field. The other is Boeing’s 737.
Tilden said that one in five Alaska customers would find it more convenient to use Paine Field compared to Sea-Tac International Airport. He also expressed optimism that the number of flights could grow beyond nine per day. He thanked Stephanson and others for years of perseverance, “honestly to help us see the real value of bringing commercial air service to Snohomish County.”
Part of Everett’s appeal for the airline is giving travelers an alternative to braving downtown Seattle traffic, a point that Somers drove home.
“I love Sea-Tac, I love Seattle — I hate driving through it,” the county executive said.
The terminal site covers about 11 acres between the airport’s administration building and the control tower. The county is due to receive $429,000 per year in rent plus a share of flight and parking revenues once operations start.
Paine Field already handles about 300 takeoffs and landings every day, mostly from general aviation, Boeing and other aerospace companies. Built during the Great Depression as part of the Works Progress Administration, Paine Field was originally intended as a “super airport.” It was later dominated by military use, which dwindled in the 1960s. The airport is run by Snohomish County.
Passenger service flourished at Paine Field in the 1940s, when Alaska briefly moved its base of operations there from its namesake state.
“We’re coming back after a long, long time of being away,” Tilden said.
Alaska also built the maintenance hangar that is now home to the Flying Heritage &Combat Armor Museum.
In an effort to reduce impacts on Mukilteo and other residential areas, Propeller has agreed to limit late-night and early-morning flights. Operations would typically begin around 6 a.m. and finish by around 8 or 9 p.m., Smith said.
No routes have been announced. Alaska doesn’t expect to until early next year.
Likely contenders are the Bay Area or other California destinations, Northwest locales such as Portland or Spokane, and popular vacation areas in sunnier climes.
“This is the missing piece of the puzzle for us in terms of job growth and recreational opportunities for the citizens of Snohomish County,” Stephanson said.
The city of Mukilteo continues to oppose the terminal. After losing other battles in federal and state court, the city is petitioning the state Supreme Court to review the county’s lease agreement with Propeller. A coalition of environmental groups recently filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of the city’s position.
Among the audience, perhaps no one lobbied harder than Hank Robinett to get regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights to the county airport. The Everett real estate developer has made it a priority over the past 30 or so years, even when the odds seemed long. Robinett predicted that 10 years or so from now, people would compare the terminal in importance to the Boeing Co’s arrival in Everett a half-century ago to build passenger jets.
“It’s sad that it took this long,” he said, “but we’re finally here, I think.”