Next month, Propeller Airports expects to break ground on a planned two-gate passenger terminal at Paine Field Airport that would allow as many as 24 flights a day of regular commercial service from the Snohomish County-owned facility.
But until last week, Propeller had no commitment from any airline to offer service from the airport that handles about 100,000 flights a year, from single-engine private aircraft up to Boeing’s largest jetliners built next door. Earlier proposals to build a terminal and offer passenger service stalled when two airlines that looked at Paine Field — Allegiant and Horizon — appeared to lose interest following the recession.
That changed last week when Alaska Airlines announced plans to offer up to nine flights a day from Paine Field beginning in fall 2018, flying Boeing 737s and 76-passenger Embraer 175 shorter-range planes.
Coming from a growing airline, having last year absorbed competitor Virgin America, Alaska’s announcement is an endorsement of the potential it sees in Paine Field to help it continue its expansion. Alaska is dealing with increased traffic at Sea-Tac International Airport that could limit its plans.
For as long as commercial service has been suggested for Paine Field, debate has flown regularly between those who see economic and other advantages and those concerned about negative impacts for noise and traffic.
There’s excitement among supporters, who already are speculating as to which destinations Alaska might announce early next year. As reported earlier this week by The Herald’s Noah Haglund, business interests, including the county’s aerospace and medical device manufacturers, have interest in service to several West Coast cities, including Portland — a national hub for Alaska — San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego, a fellow Navy town.
Spokane, with its fledgling medical school at Washington State University, makes sense as a connection to Everett and its WSU North Puget Sound campus.
Flights to Hawaii would attract interest from sun-starved residents, though Alaska already offers flights from Bellingham to Kona on the big island and Kahului on Maui.
The county’s own tourism industry would benefit from connections closer than Seattle and a traffic-choked I-5. Skipping the commute to Seattle also would be a boon to local travelers who, for some West Coast airports, spend more time on the road to Sea-Tac than they do in the air.
Mukilteo officials and residents, neighbors to Paine Field, have seen more cause for concern than enthusiasm, but so far have not been successful in court challenges to the county’s lease to Propeller or the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision in 2012 that limited service would not have significant impacts to the neighboring community. Federal and state courts of appeal have turned back the challenges, including a ruling from a state court in January that there were no issues of material fact that could be argued in trial.
This isn’t to say Mukilteo residents and officials and others do not have legitimate concerns, but addressing them directly with the county administration and Propeller could offer a better opportunity for resolving those issues. In fact, discussions already are under way between the city and Propeller that could limit noise impacts by adjusting flight paths and flight arrival and departure times.
Mukilteo is also addressing traffic concerns through its Harbor Reach Corridor project to create an alternate route to Highway 525 by connecting Beverly Park Road to Harbour Pointe Boulevard, with $15.1 million in state transportation funding and $1 million from the city’s traffic mitigation impact fees.
Trying to put the brakes on development of a transportation link such as Paine Field might shift the impacts elsewhere, but it would deprive the county of opportunities to foster employment and address the impacts of growth that we already are dealing with.