Study backs Paine Field passenger service

EVERETT — Passenger airline service at Paine Field would attract and retain high-tech businesses in Everett and noise problems from expanding the airport would be small and could be remedied.

That in a nutshell is the conclusion of an independent report presented to the Everett City Council on Wednesday evening.

The city in October hired consultants Thomas/Lane Associates of Seattle for $70,000 to conduct the study, which the city touts as the first unbiased report on commercial flights.

For years, people have argued over whether commercial air service from the Snohomish County-owned airport would benefit the community. In May, Allegiant Air asked the county about adding air service from Paine Field to Las Vegas.

The current Everett City Council hasn’t taken a position for or against passenger air service at Paine Field.

Council members say they paid for the report in order to determine whether the potential benefits of commercial flights outweigh the negative impacts on the community, such as increased noise and lower property values.

“It’s very feasible,” said Tom Lane of Thomas/Lane Associates.

The study’s analysis of benefits concludes:

By 2020, about 1.1 million people would live close enough to Paine Field that they could use it — providing more than sufficient demand to support commercial air service.

Demand for flights at the airport in the foreseeable future is about five flights per day.

Major destinations of a carrier could include Spokane; Boise, Idaho; Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.

The study’s analysis of impacts concludes:

New air operations would not cause traffic problems.

They would not interfere with the Boeing Co. and other industrial businesses around the airport.

There would be little or no effect on property values.

Noise problems will be small.

If noise does become a problem, the report says a fund should be established to help property owners.

It also recommends negotiating with neighborhoods and tracking property value changes associated with noise caused by air service and installing noise monitors on the rooftops of Mukilteo schools.

The council did not take action Wednesday. It is expected to take up the issue again at its July 30 meeting.

The report comes a month after Everett joined the airport debate with a strongly worded resolution urging Snohomish County officials to adhere to their commitments with the federal government to preserve air operations at Paine Field.

A majority of the Snohomish County Council opposed Allegiant Air after the airline expressed interest in offering two to four flights per week from Paine Field to Las Vegas.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, Lane said the planes used by Allegiant Air — MD-80s, most of which were built in the 1980s — are toward the noisier end of the decibel scale.

“It’s a loud airplane,” he said. However, many of the planes have been fitted with “hush kits” since they were built, Lane said. Also, Allegiant Air schedules its arrivals and departures toward the middle of the day when many people would be away from their homes, he said.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson asked about the ability of local jurisdictions to stop airline service.

“It’s very questionable,” Lane said.

He noted that the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits airports that receive federal funds from discriminating against any type of air service.

Councilman Ron Gipson questioned whether the city should spend money on a study when it has no say in the outcome.

“Why are we spending money on this study when the FAA’s going to say yay or nay?” he asked.

Councilman Mark Olson praised the study.

“This is exactly the kind of clearheaded, cogent, objective analysis” that city and county leaders need to make an informed decision, Olson said.

Opponents of passenger flights at Paine Field say noise from commercial jets would damage neighborhoods. The airport currently primarily serves Boeing operations and small aircraft.

After the county officials wrote a letter to Allegiant Air stating their opposition, the FAA wrote a letter to county officials reminding them that to continue receiving federal funds for the airport, they must negotiate in good faith with any air service provider.

The county has received nearly $60 million in federal funds for Paine Field since taking it over from the U.S. Air Force in the late 1960s.

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@heraldnet.com.

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