Horizon Air sees flights from Paine Field by April

EVERETT — Passenger jet flights could be taking off from Paine Field as early as April, and there’s little Snohomish County can do to stop them, elected leaders who oppose the flights said Friday.

Councilman Dave Gossett said he may not want to see commercial flights but “it’s looking more and more likely to happen.”

“We have obligations under federal law. We can’t prevent a carrier from going there,” he said. “Whether commercial service is at Paine Field is not a decision by the county. It is a decision by the carriers and we have had two carriers who have made the decision.”

Councilman Brian Sullivan said foes are battling a “perfect storm” of circumstances compounded Thursday with Boeing’s jarring announcement it won’t be hurt by the start-up of commercial flights.

Horizon Air hopes to offer two flights to Spokane and four to Portland, Ore., daily as soon as April 1.*

They tout their plans in the current edition of Horizon Air Magazine, the monthly publication placed in seat pockets on all flights. The magazine reaches more than 432,000 travelers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California and western Canada, according to the company.

Formal negotiations on an agreement should be scheduled after the County Council is briefed on legal aspects of the talks, a closed-door discussion set for next week.

Meanwhile, Allegiant Air has also said it intends to operate flights to Las Vegas from Paine Field. However, the firm is not moving as fast as Horizon and apparently has not requested formal negotiations for an operating agreement.

Sullivan, who rallied opponents at a Town Hall meeting Thursday, conceded Friday the stars are aligning against them.

Pressures are growing not to fight so hard as to risk losing millions of dollars in Federal Aviation Administration money for runway improvements, he said.

Some parts of the community are growing frustrated with traveling to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and consider Paine Field a preferred alternative, he said. And federal leaders who might be able to keep commercial service out of the county-owned airport won’t try, he said.

Add in the fact that some foes are switching sides and others have seen their strength sapped from years of fighting and, he said, “it’s the perfect storm.”

Opponents in city halls and neighborhoods aren’t conceding yet.

“We stand ready. We’re still making our case politically,” said Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine, who has united six south county cities against passenger flights.

The cities of Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway have fought any suggestion of passenger service at the airport, which today primarily serves smaller private planes and Boeing operations.

They contend noise from more flights would harm neighborhoods and interfere with other business at the airport.

According to Snohomish County, there were 137,571 takeoffs and landings at the airport in 2008. That’s an average of 376 a day.

Supporters of regular commercial service say it’s busy already, so it will be hard to notice the additional Horizon and Allegiant flights.

Boeing, in a letter Thursday to Reardon, accentuated the point when it calculated it would not be “negatively impacted” by the additional flights.

Marine pointed out Boeing did not take sides in the debate, which is good, but it didn’t help the opponents’ cause, either.

“They’re not saying, ‘Bring it on. We love it.’ Would we rather have had them come out and say they wouldn’t like it? Sure,” he said.

A greater concern for Marine is if residents perceive commercial service as something that cannot be blocked.

“I hope they can stick with it. It is not a done deal,” he said. “The one thing that will kill us is apathy.”

Mukilteo is still readying to fight in court, if needed. They’ve set aside $250,000 for the effort.

“Legally, we have nothing to challenge, yet,” he said.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

*Correction, Jan. 10, 2009: This article originally misstated the number of daily flights slated for Spokane and Portland, Ore.

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