A pilot boards the first plane scheduled for the day during the opening of the new Paine Field passenger terminal on March 4, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file photo)

A pilot boards the first plane scheduled for the day during the opening of the new Paine Field passenger terminal on March 4, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file photo)

Editorial: Keep Paine Field off list for service expansion

A proposed commission to site a new or expanded commercial airport in the state should bypass PAE.

By The Herald Editorial Board

For the opponents of regular passenger airline service at Paine Field — the cheers from supporters over this month’s first flights still ringing in their ears as loud as a jet engine — news from the state Senate this week might have them packing their bags.

With a lone dissent from Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, the Senate approved legislation that would create a new commission that will make a recommendation to locate a new or expanded primary airport in Washington state. Senate Bill 5370 is now before the House transportation committee.

There’s no debate regarding the need. Your first clue would be the soaring enthusiasm for the new passenger terminal at Paine Field and the ability for air travelers to avoid the ground traffic south to Seattle Tacoma International, not to mention the crush of passenger at its gates. The other clue is the growth of passenger and cargo flights at Sea-Tac, which was the ninth-busiest airport in the United States for passengers with 22.6 million enplanements in 2017 and 16th for cargo flights that year, handling 2.3 billion pounds of cargo, a 23 percent increase over 2016, according to Federal Aviation Administration figures.

There’s little doubt that the boom in online retail businesses, primarily Seattle-based Amazon, is driving much of that growth, even as cargo is being squeezed by the demand for passenger service at Sea-Tac.

The legislation would create a 15-member commission drawing members from state commerce and transportation agencies, ports throughout the state, the airline industry, the private sector and regional planning groups. Following a review of potential sites, the commission would consider a list of six sites for a new or expanded primary aviation airport in the state, winnowing a list of six candidates down to one by Jan. 1, 2021.

At least one senator was ready to clear a landing for her district at Grant County International Airport near Moses Lake. “We have the longest landing strip this side of the Mississippi,” offered Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake. Along with plenty of available land for cargo operations, Moses Lake also is located in the near-center of the state, just off I-90 and in resonable proximity to frieght rail.

Liias shares no such enthusiasm for Paine Field’s consideration in the process. On the floor of the Senate, Liias said he couldn’t support the bill because he wouldn’t support an additional expansion of service at Paine Field.

A review for new or expanded service somewhere in the state — and perhaps not at just one location — is necessary if the state’s airports are to safely keep up with demand for passenger and cargo flights. As it is, nothing will be taking off or landing anytime soon from such an airport; the legislation’s timeline wants a airport up and flying by 2040.

For an inclusive review of this sort, Paine Field can’t fairly be eliminated at the start but it shouldn’t rank high on any list, long or short.

Liias is right to be wary of Paine Field’s consideration in the commission’s siting review, out of concern — not just for the residential neighbors and officials who opposed the passenger terminal and its flights — but for the success of the new terminal itself.

Paine Field and its new two-gate passenger terminal have potential not just as a convenient, accessible and comfortable option for travelers but as an economic engine in developing tourism and business opportunities for Everett, Mukilteo and the rest of Snohomish County.

In the new terminal’s fledgling years, we’ll repeat what we said earlier that Paine Field needs local officials, the terminal operator, the airlines and neighboring communities to work as good neighbors to resolve concerns and protect the interests of all for a livable community around the airport.

All need time now to allow those relationships to strengthen wihout new demands for increased service.

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