Paine Field gets offer to build terminal
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — An investment firm’s offer to build commercial airline terminals at Paine Field put another wrinkle in the debate on commercial flight at the airport between Everett and Mukilteo.
The company’s offer to build the terminal under a private-public partnership could ease cost concerns for Snohomish County, which long intended to build the estimated $9.7 million terminal itself.
Even so, nothing may be immediate.
Commercial flight at Paine Field is being challenged in court by the cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds, who say the Federal Aviation Administration used faulty data to gauge the impacts of letting airlines fly from Paine Field.
The court hearing was June 18, but it could be months before the three-judge panel reaches a decision.
If the court sides with opponents, the FAA could be forced to re-analyze its data, further delaying and potentially stopping commercial flight.
Last week, Propeller Investments, a New York City private equity firm, pitched to Snohomish County to begin negotiations to let it build a two-gate terminal.
Propeller would pay to build the terminal, while also paying land rent to the county, according to TV station KING 5, which broke the story.
The County Council will have to discuss the proposal before anything progresses. Propeller asked to start negotiations within 30 days.
The county estimated last year it would cost $9.7 million to build the terminal with taxpayer dollars. The county’s plan would have amortized the buildout cost over time by recouping landing fees and business operations.
An outside company could clear the hurdle.
In his letter, Propeller’s CEO Brett Smith requested a ground lease so that they can build and operate a terminal and parking facility. They recommend following the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations established in December 2012.
Propeller Investments has not submitted a formal proposal for passenger terminals as of press time. The company is currently investing in a new Atlanta-area regional airport.
Mukilteo and Everett are at philosophical odds on commercial airlines using Paine Field.
Allegiant Air and Alaska Airlines both want to fly from Paine Field, and the FAA was required to oblige the airlines’ requests from 2008.
Mukilteo’s court challenge and delays in creating a terminal are among the stopping points to commercial flights being already at the airport.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson supports Propeller Investments building the terminals and Everett council members approved a resolution supporting commercial flight here long ago.
“Paine Field would leverage the key investments in the aviation industry that support so much of our local economy,” Stephanson said in a statement last week. “After years of debate, it’s time to take advantage of this opportunity and move forward with a plan that helps our economy, builds on our aviation foundation, and provides easier access to air travel.”
Mukilteo, which borders the airport, is adamantly opposed. It is joined by Edmonds and the Mukilteo-based group Save Our Communities in a court appeal.
Their appeal challenges the environmental assessments the FAA used in 2012 to determine commercial flight would have no significant impact to traffic and noise levels in the vicinity.
“We think there are better uses for the airfield in the local aerospace industry,” Mukilteo’s Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said last week. “We are also concerned about impacts from noise and traffic as well as other environmental impacts.”
Gregerson said that once the county allows commercial air service, city governments lose a lot of control, such as over the number of flights or the times that flights occur if the airport is opened to commercial service.
“There could be some big impacts,” she said. “If the county were to allow a change, there really is no going back.”
Indeed, Smith indicated to the Herald that he knows of many other airlines interested but wasn’t at liberty to name them. Only Alaska and Allegiant have filed with the FAA to fly from Paine Field.
Allegiant at one time wanted to build and operate the terminal in exchange to landing for free, a bold proposal that both Snohomish County officials and Alaska were leery of.
The no-frills airline candidly told this paper last year that owning the terminal would cut its costs, but the airline wouldn’t say if owning the terminal was the only way Allegiant’s business plan to use Paine Field would work.
Alaska has stood firm that it would only consider flying from Paine Field if another airline flew there first.