The cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds filed an appeal this week to the Federal Aviation Administration's decision to allow commercial flights out of Paine Field in Everett. The appeal is the latest move in a debate that stretches back more than two decades.
Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine’s office sits about 500 feet from the airport, where Boeing houses its massive factory. “We’re in the flight path right here," Marine said. "I’ll be shocked if you don’t see a plane fly over or hear it." Even though the noise and pollution concern him, his opposition to commercial flights out of Paine Field is centered on the possibility that commercial flights would crowd out Boeing.
In its study, the FAA considered introducing two commercial gates and two airlines to Paine Field. Boeing officials have said that wouldn’t impact the company's operations. Although the FAA study found that allowing more airlines would require another review, Marine is still concerned other airlines will follow.
"There’s a lot of information coming from the other side that says it’ll never expand. People say 'don’t worry, don’t worry.' I’m not going to just take their word," he said. "Talk to Detroit. They thought the automakers would leave. They did. I don’t think Boeing will stop building planes, but would stop here."
Everett Mayor Ray Stephenson shook his head at the idea that commercial air service would somehow push Boeing out. "I have absolutely no worry," he said. According to Stephenson, aerospace is far too entrenched in the region for Boeing to pick up and leave. The company's operations at Paine Field bring $19 billion in revenue to the area. "This clearly will not be Sea-Tac North," Stephenson added.
Stephenson rejected the notion that the expansion of commercial air would lower property values. He believes a regional airport would attract business. Stephenson said some companies won't move to the Everett region now because there is no regional airport, that Sea-Tac is a pain to get to. If he has to go to Spokane or Portland, it’s easier to drive from Everett than to fly. He worries this FAA appeal will further slow what already feels to him like progress at a snail’s pace.
Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air has officially expressed interest in operating flights out of Paine Field. If Allegiant comes in, Horizon Air has said it will be there too in order to stay competitive. But Stephenson worries that if Mukilteo's FAA appeal takes a year, Allegiant may lose interest.
Public interest in commercial flights at Paine Field is mixed. "That's a tough question," said Edmonds resident Ron Nugent. "I think it's good. I think it's bad." Nugent is a real estate agent and said he'd just shown a potential homebuyer a nearby property. Nugent worries noise will be a problem. But he also believes commercial air could bring jobs to the area. "Progress is good, but it can be also too deflating if you’re a homeowner," Nugent said. "It’s a double-edged sword."
Although the FAA has given the green light for commercial flights at Paine Field, Snohomish County still needs to conduct its own environmental review. The county plans to hire a consultant within the next couple of weeks.
As for who would pay for a new terminal at Paine Field, that's still up in the air.