Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alaska Airlines will start passenger flights from Snohomish County Airport - Paine Field (KPAE), Everett, Washington

Starting next year, people living north of Seattle will have Everett’s Paine Field as an alternative to Seattle-Tacoma International, as Alaska Airlines begins daily passenger flights likely serving popular destinations in Oregon and California.

“As our region continues to grow at a record pace and Sea-Tac Airport nears capacity, the time is right,” said Alaska Airlines chief executive Brad Tilden. “Today’s news means less time stuck in traffic on Interstate 5 and more time enjoying your vacation or making the most of your business trip.”

Alaska announced Wednesday it plans to begin the flights in fall 2018, but it won’t disclose specific routes and flight schedules — or begin selling tickets — until early next year.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers welcomed the news as a boost for the county.

 “Businesses will have easier access to major markets and leisure travelers can skip the commute down south, saving time and fuel,” Somers said.

Alaska said that, subject to expected FAA approval, it plans to operate nine daily departures from the airport, where ground-breaking on a new passenger terminal is scheduled for next month.

Brett Smith, chief executive of New York-based private equity firm Propeller Airports, the developer of the passenger terminal, said Wednesday that Alaska is only the first airline to commit to starting service out of Paine Field and he expects more to come.

“We have interest from a number of carriers,” Smith said in an interview. “I’m confident there will be more than Alaska by next year.”

The new terminal will be relatively small, with just two airport gates. With typical turn times that means the capacity of the airport will be roughly 16 flights per day at peak.

Alaska didn’t disclose which cities it plans to fly to, but in a blog post on the airline’s website, John Kirby, vice president of capacity planning, said the service out of Paine Field “won’t be limited to short, regional flights.”

“We’re talking daily, nonstop flights to some of our most popular destinations,” Kirby wrote.

Flights to Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Los Angeles would likely attract good traffic out of Everett.

In a press release, Alaska said north Puget Sound travelers “could shave up to 80 minutes off their airport commute, during peak traffic congestion,” by using Paine Field rather than driving down I-5 to reach Sea-Tac airport.

Propeller CEO Smith said he expects to see “a lot of West Coast flying” out of Paine Field.

“Anything west of the Rockies is fair game,” he said.

Flights to western Canada are also options. For such international flights, the Paine Field terminal wouldn’t need customs or border checks, since U.S. Customs and Border Protection operate inside Canadian airports.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said that having the region’s largest airline be the first to announce scheduled passenger service from Everett “confirms the value commercial flights will bring to the local economy.”

New passenger terminal

Paine Field was originally constructed in 1936 during the Depression, eight years before Sea-Tac was built during World War II.

It’s currently used by Boeing for test and delivery of its widebody jets and by private owners of small general aviation airplanes. It’s also home to a major aviation maintenance facility for commercial airliners and several flight schools.

The site is a major regional tourist attraction as well. Visitors flock to the Future of Flight aviation exhibition and the associated Boeing factory tour as well as to Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection of wartime airplanes and the Historic Flight Foundation’s collection of antique planes.

After the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2012 cleared the way for commercial passenger flights out of Paine Field, some local residents concerned about traffic, noise and property values unsuccessfully sued the agency.

Propeller’s Smith said all the regulatory hurdles for the terminal have now been dealt with and permissions approved, including final mitigation of a storm water issue raised by one local resident.

The only remaining government approval needed is for the FAA to clear the airline to fly out of a new airport.

Joe Sprague, Alaska’s senior vice president of external relations, said the airline does not anticipate any difficulty in winning that approval.

He said Alaska is aware of the past opposition by some residents to developing Paine Field.

“Airport and airplane noise has been an issue for decades. It is a relevant issue,” Sprague said. “We are trying to work with neighborhood groups to understand their concerns and to mitigate them.”

Alaska plans to start passenger service flying Embraer 175 regional jets, which seat 76 passengers and will be operated by subsidiary Horizon Air, as well as larger Boeing 737 aircraft seating up to 189 passengers and operated by the mainline carrier Alaska Airlines.

The plan by Propeller Airports to develop a passenger terminal at Paine Field was approved in 2015 by Snohomish County, which owns the airport.

Propeller has paid for the design and all the environmental studies and mitigation necessary and is also paying for the terminal’s construction and operation — an investment Smith said is worth “north of $30 million.”

Propeller will lease the terminal for an initial 30 years, paying the county about $430,000 per year plus a share of the revenues: 2.5 percent for the first five years and 5 percent thereafter.

Smith said that at peak capacity of around 16 flights per day he anticipates roughly 1,000 passengers per day in and out of the airport, or about 300,000 per year.

That compares to some 42 million per year at Sea-Tac.

Alaska said “one million residents of northern King County, Snohomish County and surrounding communities” could benefit from service out of Paine Field.

Smith, who is moving from New York to Seattle in July “to make sure it’s done right,” promised a “personal touch” for passengers at the small airport, with a high ratio of airport staff to passengers.

“We’re very much focused on the customer experience,” Smith said.

The plans at Paine Field are too small-scale to have a major impact on the hectic growth at Sea-Tac airport, which has for a couple of years been the fastest growing large airport in the U.S.

“The region is growing so much. The economy, jobs, population, everything is on the increase,” said Alaska’s Sprague. “Sea-Tac is today the primary commercial airport for this region and will be for generations. It’s our No. 1 hub.”

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