The needlessly complicated future of flying from Everett

  • By Tom Hoban Realty Markets
  • Tuesday, March 26, 2013 3:57pm

Most airports around the country are owned and operated by port authorities. Their narrower mission to support job creation and commerce allows them to effectively serve regions with overlapping political boundaries. Air travel, of course, supports nearly every industry in one form or another at the airport and the areas around it. In Snohomish County’s case, there are 1.4 million people in its “catchment area.”

Through a unique set of circumstances, though, Paine Field in Everett was originally gifted from the military to Snohomish County government, not to a port authority. It’s remained in the county’s control since. With broader duties and constituencies to worry about, for decades it has been politically opposed to commercial passenger service at Paine Field. County Executive Aaron Reardon has fallen in line as an opponent as well. With the recent Federal Aviation Administration-mandated review process now clearing the way for commercial passenger service and an appealing routing schedule offered by Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Air, the county is in a tough position: How can it be against something that it can’t actually be against anymore?

With a proposal on the table, attention turns now toward what sort of terminal building could be built or if the current one could be remodeled to move passengers efficiently. There are security, baggage handling, ticketing, parking enforcement and other issues that need to be addressed and the current facility wasn’t built to meet those needs.

But building something out of a position of acquiescence may not bring much of a terminal and could be counterproductive. Realizing that airports need flexibility in these circumstances, FAA rules that govern airports say airport owner-operators must offer a ground lease to a private party if one wants to build a terminal. It’s a tool the FAA gave airports to keep up with demand and leverage the private sector to support air travel. Revenue is generated from gate fees and other revenues to pay for the terminal cost in most cases. Pointing to budget concerns at the county to delay or block a terminal won’t work. If Snohomish County doesn’t have the money to build a terminal, someone else could offer to take a ground lease and build it themselves.

The issue now becomes not whether there is a means to build a terminal, but what exactly to build. Building a quality terminal that appeals to vacation and business travelers while serving as a gateway to the community for visitors is a marketing effort, not something done reluctantly. Built for the future and with a presentation that proves a commitment, the county and citizens can derive maximum benefit from this mode of travel. Opponents might even be comforted to see that it is built to handle projected demand but not so big that it suggests a “Sea-Tac north” scenario that no one wants. Sizing the terminal building was always going to be the way to support — and limit — activity.

Reardon’s resignation announcement in February conveniently opens the door for his successor to clean up this conflict and move forward with a terminal through any of the means available to the county. Until then, the future of flying from Everett remains unnecessarily complicated while an appealing proposal from two quality airlines sits idle, burning a hole in someone’s desk.

Tom Hoban is CEO of The Coast Group of Companies. Contact him at 425-339-3638 or

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