EVERETT — If everything goes as planned, late next year people will be able to board six United Airlines flights a day at Paine Field, headed for San Francisco, Denver and, from there, the world.
United, which carried some 143 million passengers to 50 countries in 2016, on Thursday morning announced that it will become the second major airline to offer passenger flights from a two-gate terminal now under construction at the Snohomish County-owned airport.
“Bringing new service to Paine Field offers customers more ways to conveniently connect to the country’s largest business and leisure destinations,” Dave Hilfman, United’s senior vice president of worldwide sales, said in a press release.
City and business leaders celebrated the news, saying it will help Everett attract businesses that have shied away because of the lack of a regional airport. The service will improve quality of life for many travelers, because there won’t be an hour-plus drive to the closest airport, they said.
Air service also has been a “crucial missing link” for companies that operate globally, said Lanie McMullin, executive director for the city.
“We’re thrilled at the decision when any company comes to Snohomish County, but especially a company that will give us more of an economic development edge,” she said. “Commercial air service has been long anticipated in Snohomish County for businesses and citizens alike.”
Tom Hoban, CEO of Coast Real Estate Services and a longtime local business leader, has been pushing for commercial flights at Paine Field for at least a decade.
“It’s time now for the business community and the new mayor to come together around an aggressive plan to market Everett through a now-important link in the transportation chain,” he said.
Hoban also said he was glad planners heard the concerns from Mukilteo about noise and traffic impacts. The project has taken a long time, though, and too many opportunities have been missed for the region’s economy, he said. That might be over now.
United expects to begin offering Paine Field service by fall 2018. It joins Alaska Airlines, which in May said it plans to offer Paine Field flights in about a year.
New York-based Propeller Airports in June broke ground on the roughly 30,000-square-foot passenger terminal adjacent to the airport’s control tower. It is expected to be ready for flights by next summer.
Propeller CEO Brett Smith said he always believed Paine Field would prove attractive to commercial carriers.
“I’m even a little bit surprised,” he said of United’s announcement.
It validates the belief that the region is ready for another option besides fighting long drives down traffic-choked freeways to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, he said.
“It’s certainly going to make people’s lives easier,” Smith said.
United said its Paine Field flights will connect to hub airports in Denver and San Francisco. That opens possibilities for travelers in Everett being able to reach major business centers around the globe with a single stop.
United knows that customers value time and convenience, Hilfman said.
The company already offers 36 flights daily from Sea-Tac to its U.S. hub airports. Rapid growth in Snohomish and north King counties makes the Everett option even more attractive, the airline said.
Offering flights from Paine Field also would mark a homecoming of sorts. In 1939 United operated the first commercial flight at Paine Field, the company said. That was just three years after the airport was built under the Depression-era Work Progress Administration program.
Alaska has not yet announced the routes it plans from Paine Field, but the Bay Area or other California destinations and Northwest locales such as Portland or Spokane are considered likely contenders.
Alaska says it plans to use a combination of Boeing 737 and Embraer 175 jets. Embraer 175s are typically used for short- or medium-range trips, while 737s are capable of longer flights.
United expects to use a mix of regional and standard narrowbody aircraft at Paine Field, based on forecast and demand, spokesman Jonathan Guerin said.
“Between the two airlines I think this opens up a whole new world of opportunity for the county and in a very positive way,” Propeller’s Smith said.
As near as he can tell, Paine Field travelers soon will be able to connect to as many as 139 destinations outside the Pacific Northwest, including 29 international locations, depending on flight schedules, said Patrick Pierce, president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.
That makes it easier to attract developers, investors and tourists, Pierce said. He also is looking forward to learning Alaska’s route plans.
“As we look at potential companies interested in the region, having commercial air service that will land them within 15 to 30 minutes of a potential site is very compelling to them,” he said.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers welcomed the airline.‘“We are excited by the opportunities that daily connections to United’s hubs with international service will bring to our community,” he said.
Many in south county have been fighting commercial passenger service at Paine Field for years, worrying about traffic, noise and pollution.
In 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration concluded that about two dozen daily takeoffs and landings by passenger jets would have no significant effect on surrounding communities.
Mukilteo and the Save Our Communities advocacy group launched a last-ditch legal challenge to try to prevent commercial flights at the airport. The effort failed in July when the state Supreme Court chose not to hear the case.
Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson has said the city would work to mitigate impacts, and hopes that Propeller and Alaska would be “friendly and responsive neighbors.”
Paine Field already averages more than 300 daily takeoffs and landings, mostly from general aviation and aerospace companies.
United is the fourth largest U.S. airline ranked by passengers carried in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
United currently offers services out of Sea-Tac and Spokane and flies United Express out of Pasco.
The company announced an aggressive push earlier this year to expand the number of flights and routes it offers across the U.S. and Europe.
The expansion added daily service to some cities and offered service for the first time to three Midwest cities and Santa Rosa, California, on the West Coast.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; email@example.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.