FAA evaluating next move after Horizon Air's decision to pull out of review process
EVERETT - Horizon Air is no longer interested in flying out of Paine Field, but the impact of the airline’s decision on commercial flights out of this Snohomish County airport is unknown.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which released a revised environmental assessment on commercial flights Friday, Sept. 14, is “still evaluating the situation,” FAA regional spokesman Allen Kenitzer said last week. Kenitzer declined to speculate on what Horizon’s decision means for opening up Paine Field to commercial flights.
The revised report states the FAA prefers allowing commercial flights, but revised its evaluation to assume more flights and the anticipated noise impacts, air quality assumptions and vehicle traffic impacts. Horizon dropping out now means less flights.
Horizon’s decision will not lead Snohomish County to ask the FAA to stop the process because a second airline, Allegiant Air, is still interested, county executive director Brian Parry said last week.
The only reason Snohomish County would ask to stop the FAA’s process is if no airlines wanted to fly from Paine Field, Parry said.
While County Executive Aaron Reardon opposes commercial flights at Paine Field, the county itself is taking a neutral stand on commercial flights, Parry said.
Allegiant is still interested in flying Boeing MD83 jets from Everett to Las Vegas, an Allegiant spokeswoman confirmed last week.
The county cannot stop commercial flights at Paine Field because the FAA has the decision-making power. The FAA must consider any airline’s request to fly at public airports, such as Paine Field, and must approve the request if the FAA deems the airport safe enough for commercial flights.
The citizen’s group Save Our Communities, which opposes commercial flights, says the FAA’s report is still flawed.
“The FAA appears to be collusive, conflicted and coercive,” SOC states in a recent newsletter alert.
The report fails to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, and doesn’t consider that opening up flights for one airline opens it up for all of them, SOC vice president Greg Hauth said.
Hauth fears that will happen because Paine Field is cheaper for airlines to fly out of than Sea-Tac International, among other factors.
The Boeing Co. uses Paine Field as its main airport, which is adjacent to its Everett facility where the 787, 737 and 747 are built. Hauth fears Boeing may be crowded out by commercial flights.
“It’s jeopardizing the aerospace industry and cannibalizing Sea-Tac,” Hauth said.
The county, meanwhile, would be on the hook for improving the airport for commercial flights, Hauth said. Hauth says private industry shouldn’t be subsidized at the taxpayers’ expense.
The FAA’s study doesn’t consider the impacts at full commercial air capacity. SOC wants the FAA to do that instead of doing incremental reviews.
Hauth points to the lengthy environmental review process Sea-Tac International Airport went through to build a third runway. The Sea-Tac process took years to conduct with much opposition.
The FAA’s Paine Field study generated more than 900 comments, mostly against commercial flights, when it came out in 2009. The FAA is taking comments on the new material in the revised report through Sunday, Oct. 14.
The county is still reviewing the revised report, and he didn’t know if any official county statement will come out, Parry said.
Dave Waggoner, director of Paine Field, declined to comment as he’s been directed to send media inquiries to the County Executive’s Office.
Horizon backed out because things have changed since the airline submitted its 2009 request to fly out of Paine Field, Horizon spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said last week.
One reason is Sea-Tac’s third runway, Egan said. The runway opened in 2008.
“The right place to grow is Sea-Tac International Airport,” she said.
Allegiant has read through the FAA’s report and still supports flying out of Paine Field.
“We aren’t surprised by the report, and we think the report confirms what we’ve said all along — flights from Paine field would be a great benefit to the community and the airport,” Allegiant spokeswoman Jennifer Wheeler said in an e-mail last week.
The Snohomish City Council is set to vote to send a letter to the FAA supporting commercial flights at its Oct. 2 meeting. Local developer Hank Robinett requested the action and Mayor Karen Guzak said she supports it.
“It’s relevant to the region,” Guzak said, adding, “I think it would generally help the economy ... more jobs circle out from there.”
Hauth disagrees commercial flights stimulate the local economy.
“Anyone who’s said this would contribute to economic development, we say show us your stats,” Hauth said. “Economic development is not low-wage car rental jobs; it’s Boeing. How is this going to do any better than what we’ve got?”
The city of Everett is on record supporting commercial flights at Paine Field through a City Council resolution.
The cities of Mukilteo, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway and Brier are among those on record opposing commercial flights.
The FAA report is available online at www.painefield.com/airserviceea.html.
The FAA is accepting written comments on the new material in the report through Sunday, Oct. 14.
Check out our online Publications!