FAA clears path for commercial flights
EVERETT – As anticipated, FAA clears path for commercial flights at Paine
The Federal Aviation Administration last week gave airlines an expected “OK” to fly from Everett’s Paine Field.
In its Dec. 4 decision, the FAA stated adding commercial flights at the general aviation airport would have no significant environmental impact. The study looked at noise, light, traffic and air quality impacts.
The decision faces a Snohomish County environmental review and the city of Mukilteo may appeal the decision as well.
Even so, it could take a year or more before scheduled flights can start. Snohomish County must get confirmation that Allegiant Air and Alaska Airlines are still interested in flying out of Paine Field, conduct a county-led state environmental review on the impact of those flights and build a terminal to accommodate passengers.
Both airlines lobbied the FAA to fly out of Paine Field in 2008. Allegiant says it’s still interested; Alaska said it would want to fly out of Paine if a competitor started service there. Alaska said this fall it would instead focus on using Sea-Tac International’s third runway, which wasn’t around in 2008.
Opponents say the study is flawed because it doesn’t address the cumulative impacts of opening up the airport to more flights in the future.
The decision’s harshest critics say the FAA manipulated environmental regulations to base its decision on the small number of flights initially proposed for the airport, when federal law clearly states opening an airport to commercial service opens it up to unlimited flights.
The FAA will do new environmental reviews for any future requests for additional flights, and opponents say that lets the FAA incrementally let in more commercial flights at Paine Field without addressing the cumulative impacts from the beginning.
When airlines ask to fly from an airport, the FAA is almost always required to accommodate them.
Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine wants his city to appeal the decision, potentially in court. Council members there will decide if the city pursues legal action at its Monday, Jan. 7 meeting.
In a statement last week, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson applauded the FAA’s decision for its economic impact. The airport is on county land located between the two cities.
“The report is flawed,” Marine said, because of the small number of flights the environmental review is based on.
“It’s short-sighted to suggest commercial service and aerospace manufacturing can coexist,” he added.
The city has about $125,000 in a legal fund for a specialized attorney to fight the review.
A leader of the Mukilteo-based opposition group Save Our Communities had harsher words for the FAA’s methodology.
“They’re really manipulating environmental law” by calculating the environmental impact from a small number of flights, the group’s vice president Greg Hauth said. He said the FAA violated the required environmental review system under those calculations.
“What environmental law requires them to do is to look at the cumulative impacts” of a large number of potential flights, Hauth said.
Save Our Communities formed in 1992 shortly after changes in federal law stripped communities from enacting local ordinances to regulate flights at local airports.
In 2009, Allegiant proposed starting with two flights a week to Las Vegas using MD-83 jets. Alaska proposed six flights a day using Bombardier Q400 Dash 8 regional turboprops.
Both airlines fly from Bellingham’s regional airport.
To accommodate airline service, the county proposed adding on to its terminal, which the FAA says will have to be about 30,000 square feet to handle 225 passengers at a time. The terminal would be sized to “accommodate only the projected passengers as identified by the two airlines,” the report states.
The report can be read online at www.painefield.com/airserviceeafonsi-rod.html.
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