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Paine Field: Up, up and away

 


No more assessments, no more delays. No more what ifs, and no more waiting.

Six years after the City of Edmonds joined Mukilteo in appealing the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to allow commercial flights out of Everett’s Paine Field – which continued a two-decades-long fight – commercial air service at a new terminal at Paine Field has officially began.

On Monday, March 4, under brilliantly blue skies, an Alaska Airlines Embraer 175 twin-jet kicked off commercial air service out of Paine Field (PAE) with flights to Portland (PDX), Las Vegas (LAS) and Phoenix (PHX). The first flight took off shortly after 10 a.m. Destination: Portland. The second: Las Vegas.

The two-gate terminal will have a maximum of 24 daily arrivals and departures across the Western United States.

In 2013, and again in 2015, Edmonds councilmembers voted on a resolution against commercial flights from the Everett airport.

“There’s a deep concern on the council’s part that it will have an impact on the quality of life in our community,” Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling said in 2013. “(Councilmembers) wanted to make their position known, and so they voted to join (Mukilteo’s) suit.”

Two year later, Earling said, “The City Council’s view on past resolutions has not changed. We are joined with Mukilteo and their concerns, principally around noise and decreasing property values.”

But as it became clear that commercial flights were to come, Earling said in October it was time to face facts.

"Even though many in the city are concerned and opposed to the Paine Field expansion, it is probably time to treat the expansion as a reality.”

This week, Earling – who frequently travels to the Southwest to visit family – said he would certainly consider taking advantage of Paine Field as an option to Sea-Tac Airport.

“I have been on site a couple of times, and the airport is stunning and passenger friendly,” he said. “The drive time from my home to Paine is half that of Sea-Tac. The key in the beginning will be the destination I need, and whether a transfer is needed to get to the final destination. A direct flight has the most appeal for me.”

Earling will have options at the $40 million terminal, which was built and is operated by Brett Smith’s Propeller Airports, a subsidiary of New York-based private equity firm Propeller Investments. The airport itself is owned by Snohomish County.

Alaska will fly to and from Portland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles (LAX), Santa Ana in Orange County (SNA), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC) and Phoenix. Alaska has a maximum of 18 daily flights.

Joining Alaska at Paine Field will be United Airlines, which will fly to and from Denver (DEN) and San Francisco. It will start flights March 31.

Parking is $5 for the first 30 minutes, with a maximum of $30 a day. Valet parking is $20 for up to three hours, with a $40 maximum. Of course, tickets prices vary by airline and date of departure; information is available on Alaska and United’s websites.

Undoubtedly, many Edmonds residents have already booked flights. One of those is Mike McMurray, a local financial adviser developing Main Street Commons at Main Street and Sixth Avenue South.

“Yes, I actually have a flight booked out of Paine Field for the end of April to attend a conference in Vegas,” he said. “Talk about less stress and unpredictable traffic congestions through Seattle.”

Greg Urban, president and CEO of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, said he would even consider paying slightly more, for the convenience, to fly out of Everett if the service met his travel needs.

“Paine Field is only five minutes from my home, meaning less travel and frustration,” said Urban, who in 2016 was appointed to the Paine Field Community Council.

“From my home, Sea-Tac Airport is anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes of travel, plus fuel and the wear and tear on the vehicle. I am certain asking a friend for a ride to the airport would be much easier and, if needed, the Lyft/Uber ride would cost less than $10.”

What Paine Field could mean to travelers

For years, Paine Field – built in 1936 and expanded many times – has been home to the Boeing manufacturing plant for 747, 767, 777 and 787 planes. It also houses Aviation Technical Services, which inspects and repairs commercial and government airplanes.

Tourist activities are centered on the Future of Flight Aviation and Boeing Tour, the Flying Heritage Collection and the Historic Flight Foundation.

Paine Field also has a multitude of hangers and several flight schools. More than 300 general aviation aircraft activities (including takeoffs and landings) occur on its three runways every day.

Although Snohomish County commissioners adopted a resolution in 1979 stating that light aircraft would be Paine Field’s primary users, a change in attitude surfaced in 2002, after the county suffered Boeing layoffs after a downturn in air travel due in part to the lingering effects of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Back then, County Council Chairman Gary Nelson and County Executive Bob Drewell co-chaired a task force on an economic stimulus plan. It recognized the importance of public and private partnerships and mentioned the possible development of an aircraft terminal, with the plan to retain a regional air carrier.

Now, with the beginning of commercial services, Edmonds Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty said he sees two principal sources of passengers to and from Paine Field.

The first is business travelers who have business with Boeing and other related and unrelated Snohomish County businesses.

“With direct nonstop service to and from the major West Coast cities, any business traveler who comes from one of those cities to Snohomish County for business will quickly learn that the Paine Field connection will suit them far better,” Doherty said.

“The reverse is true, too, as Snohomish County residents have business in those other major West Coast cities.”

The second source?

Doherty said that would be Snohomish County residents, as well as Skagit, Island and maybe even Whatcom and San Juan Island county residents, who want to travel to those major West Coast cities and or connect through them onto other destinations.

“And, conversely, folks from those areas who have friends, relatives and or tourism destinations here in Snohomish County,” he said.

“Once they learn of the availability of direct flights to Snohomish County, I suspect they will arrange their travel plans accordingly to avoid Sea-Tac and the long and sometimes arduous travel to and from there to Snohomish County and beyond.”

Grand opening

Propeller CEO Smith kicked off the festivities by unveiling a statue of Topliff Olin Paine – a former Army Air Corps pilot who Paine Field is named after – with the help of two of Paine’s great-nephews.

Smith christened the terminal building by smashing a bottle of champagne on the outside wall. It only took five tries, and resulted in Smith being partially covered by the beverage.

“They’re going to think I’m drunk!” said Smith about TSA agents and Alaska flight attendants.

Shortly after, Smith and former Everett Mayor Ray Stephenson cut the ribbon to the terminal building, and the large crowd of elected officials, private partners, media members, and those who were patrons of the first flight to Portland, made it through TSA agents.

“It’s been a long time coming – decades, really,” Alaska Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Harrison said. “I was driving in this morning and I saw the Eskimo (Alaska Airlines logo) smiling at me from the tail (of the plane) as I drove into the parking lot. What’s really important here is opening up for the businesses and the communities something that is really exciting.”

Harrison noted Alaska used to have its headquarters at Paine Field in the 1940s before moving to Seattle, but was excited to be back in Everett. Additionally, Alaska bought eight new airplanes just for service out of Paine Field.

“(That is) a massive investment,” he said, “but we have 100 percent confidence in the community and the needs of the traveling public up here and the businesses, that this is going to be a huge success.”

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers has been supportive of the terminal, dating back to his days as a Snohomish County councilmember.

In 2015, Somers, along with fellow councilmembers Terry Ryan and Ken Klein, voted to a lease-option agreement that gave Propeller Airports three years to do preliminary design work and environmental studies to obtain necessary permits to build the two-gate terminal. Councilmembers Brian Sullivan, the former mayor of Mukilteo, and Stephanie Wright – whose district serves Edmonds – voted against it in 2015.

“I want to start by thanking Propeller Airports and Brett Smith,” Somers said. “They provided the most beautiful terminal anywhere, but I have to say Snohomish County provided the beautiful airport and scenery.”

Some across the state, and country, have described the new terminal as “Sea-Tac North” or “Seattle’s next airport” – which Somers disagreed with.

“We kind of chafe at that in Snohomish County. I’ve always referred to Seattle as the southern gateway to Snohomish County,” Somers said, “but I can’t do that anymore. We have our own gateway now.”

Shortly after the news conference, Harrison and Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck cut the ribbon at the boarding gate for the first flight from Paine Field to Portland. That flight included Smith, Somers, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin and other dignitaries. (Paying customers boarded the second flight.)

As the plane moved along to get to the north end of the runway to build up speed for takeoff, Paine Field fire trucks gave a “water salute” as the plane drove between the trucks.

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson was not at the opening of the terminal, but she released a statement.

“Our work representing the community of Mukilteo meant that Paine Field is limited to their initial start of service flights,” she said. “They will meet a need in our region. Now, it’s time to return our focus to the important aerospace jobs that benefit from our county airport.”

– Mukilteo Beacon Editor Brandon Gustafson contributed to this story.

 

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