EVERETT — Now arriving at Seattle Paine Field International Airport.
You read that right.
Snohomish County officials are changing the Everett airport’s name from Snohomish County Airport Paine Field to Seattle Paine Field International Airport.
Officials hope the new name will boost its visibility and promote Paine Field as an alternative to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
By adding the name of the city that’s over 10 miles south, the “airport aims to guide more travelers, tourists, and investors to Paine Field and reinforce its geographic proximity to the globally recognized city of Seattle,” the county said in a statement Tuesday.
The “international” designation is being added because it “more accurately reflects the international character of the airport, since we are the global heart of the aerospace industry,” the county said.
All but one of the airport’s current commercial flights are domestic — from Anchorage to San Diego.
But Canada counts. In May, Kenmore Air began offering scheduled flights from Everett to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
It’s the fifth time the Snohomish County-owned airport has been renamed since opening in 1936.
The latest name change takes effect immediately.
Grabbing onto Seattle’s coattails has its perks — the Emerald City is one of the most recognized cities in the world.
“The continued economic health of Paine Field is one of Snohomish County’s top priorities,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said. “With nearly $60 billion in yearly economic impact and over 150,000 jobs, the airport must continually find new ways to strengthen our marketing and brand. This change will significantly bolster our business attraction and marketing efforts, while protecting the historical significance of the Paine Field name.”
The airport code, PAE, stays the same.
Changing the name does not require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, airport spokesperson Kristin Banfield said.
“While our name may have changed, the ownership, operations, and core mission of the airport remain unaffected. This change will provide new opportunities for our many attractions and businesses,” said Paine Field’s new airport director, Joshua Marcy.
Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, which built and operates the privately owned terminal, welcomed the change.
“We have always viewed Paine Field as a second gateway to the Seattle metro area and are excited that the county has rebranded the airport,” Smith told The Daily Herald. “‘Seattle Paine Field International Airport’ better captures the market that our airport serves.”
Earlier this month, Smith told Peter Greenberg, host of the podcast “Eye on Travel,” that several carriers have expressed interest in the terminal.
“We’re looking forward to announcing that, hopefully, in the next few months,” Smith said.
Currently, Alaska Airlines and its sibling regional carrier, Horizon Air, are the only airlines serving the terminal, which has two jet bridges and a third gate that boards from the pavement.
Sea-Tac or SeaPae?
“It does have a ring to it,” Penny Clark said of the new name. Clark is the longtime owner of Travel Time in Everett. One hitch, though: “When you say ‘international,’ you assume there are more flights,” she added.
Like other travel agents, Clark would like to see the Everett airport add more destinations. When the passenger terminal opened in 2019, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines offered a combined 24 daily departures. Then the pandemic struck and United pulled out. Now, the number of flights has dropped to 12 to 14 per day.
Clark hopes the name change will draw another airline or two and add flights to some of the nation’s major hubs, such as Denver, Chicago or Atlanta.
“Then I would consider it more of an international airport,” Clark said.
Does Clark worry travelers might confuse the two airports?
After all, Seattle Paine Field International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport sound strikingly similar.
It’s already happened, she said.
Passengers who’ve booked travel on their own have sometimes selected the wrong airport — even before the name change.
“They’re flying into Everett and their rental car is at Sea-Tac,” Clark said. To avoid mix-ups, travel agents use airport codes.
“The general public might have to pay attention, for sure,” Clark said.
Still, “anything that we can do to bring more flights into Everett is positive,” she said.
John and Vivian Rotunda are general aviation pilots who lease a hangar at Paine Field. They’re disappointed in the name and the way it was changed.
“Unilaterally changing a public use, county-owned airport into essentially ‘SeaTac North’ is absolutely reprehensible,” the couple told The Herald.
In an email Tuesday to the county executive, they wrote, “How could you do this to our community without first (getting) input from all the Paine Field stakeholders? It was not even brought up in an airport commission meeting — Wow!
“It really sounds like a ‘desperate move’ between Snohomish county officials and its privately owned terminal lease tenant to ‘prop-up’ the privately owned air-terminal, given they are only operating about ten departures per day now,” the Rotundas wrote.
Seattle’s second airport
The airport’s new name will appear on letterhead, business cards and marketing materials distributed outside the Puget Sound area, Banfield said.
“We don’t have a timeline for changing signage at this time,” she said.
The airport declined to say how much the change would cost, saying only it’s a process that could take a few months.
Some may not be happy with the airport’s new handle.
When commercial airline service launched at Paine Field in March 2019, CNN, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times and other national media referred to Paine Field as “Seattle’s second airport.”
Feathers were ruffled.
Local residents took to social media, writing things like: “Stop calling it Seattle’s second airport. It isn’t. Give Everett and Snohomish County the credit it is due. It’s not Seattle’s second airport, it’s Everett’s first.”
Even County Executive Somers chafed a bit at the “second airport” label when commercial air service launched from Everett in 2019.
“For much of the world, we are part of Seattle,” Somers said. “I don’t like it, but it’s a fact of life,” Somers told The Daily Herald at the time.
Somers repeated the sentiment at a news conference on opening day, saying, “I always refer to Seattle as the gateway to Snohomish County,” he said, while acknowledging the affiliation’s economic benefits.
But Paine’s “second airport” status stuck.
Alaska Airlines, which offers nonstop flights from Everett to about 10 destinations, refers to Paine Field as the Seattle/Everett airport in ads and flight schedules. When you search for a flight on the Seattle-based carrier’s website, the choices include “Seattle, WA (PAE Seattle-Everett).”
Propeller Airports, which built and operates the terminal, often calls the airfield “Seattle’s second airport.”
Both Alaska and Propeller have said they’re trying to get the word out that the Paine Field terminal is an alternative to Sea-Tac International Airport.
Other entities could benefit from the new name. That includes Paine Field’s top tourist attractions: The Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center, the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum and the Museum of Flight Restoration Center county officials said.
The airport joins the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau in adding Seattle to its name. In 2019, the tourism bureau launched a new marketing brand aimed at attracting more tourists to the county. With “Seattle NorthCountry,” it hoped to increase tourism throughout the county, an billion-dollar industry annually.
Local hotels have added Seattle to their name as an identifier. The list includes Hotel Indigo Seattle Everett on the city’s waterfront and Hampton Inn Seattle-Everett, to name two.
What’s in a name?
Paine Field has changed owners and monikers several times in its 87-year history.
Built in 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration project, the airport was intended to be one of 10 commercial “super airports” around the country. A site between Mukilteo and Everett was chosen because it was mostly free of fog and relatively unpopulated. Initially, the WPA bought 640 acres from the timber interests of Merrill Ring Logging, and Pope and Talbot,” according to the Mukilteo Historical Society.
From 1936 to 1940, it was known as the Snohomish County Airport.
In 1940, the United States Army Air Corps leased the airport and named it Everett Army Air Field. At the time, it was “little more than two paved runways,” according to a military history website.
The Air Corps expanded the airport with a 6,300-foot east-west runway and three secondary runways.
A few years later, according to some sources, the Earl Faulkner Post of the American Legion in Everett suggested the airport be renamed in honor of Lt. Topliff Olin Paine.
A pilot for the Postal Service, Paine grew up in Everett and graduated from Everett High School in 1911. After serving in World War I, he joined the newly minted Air Mail Service. Before his death from an accidental gunshot wound in 1922, he was considered one of the top flyers for the Western Division of the Air Mail Service.
In 1941, the airfield was christened Paine Army Airfield.
Despite tweaks to the airport’s title as it changed hands over the years, the name Paine has remained.
In October 1945, the airport reverted back to Snohomish County, but ownership was short-lived. The airport was reactivated for military use in 1949, this time for the newly created Air Force, which renamed it Paine Field Air Force Base. The Air Force enlarged the airfield yet again, constructing a 9,010-foot jet runway and taxiways that now serves as the main runway.
In 1966, Boeing took over the airport to build the assembly plant for the new 747 jumbo jet.
Ownership was again returned to the county in 1968. Since then, it has been known as Paine Field/Snohomish County Airport.
Now, Paine Field is bookended by “Seattle” and “International” for its sixth iteration as Seattle Paine Field International Airport.