Boeing has taken an exclusive lease option on 58 acres of undeveloped land west of the main runway on Everett's Paine Field, raising speculation that it is considering the site for assembly of its next new airplane, the 797.

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Boeing has taken an exclusive lease option for 58 acres of undeveloped land west of the main runway on Paine Field “to develop additional aerospace manufacturing facilities to supplement its existing operations” in Everett, according to documents approved Monday evening by the Snohomish County Council.

It’s the same parcel of land, currently an expanse of brush and uneven ground, that Washington state touted in 2013 as a possible location for the 777X wing-manufacturing building.

The documents state that the option provides Boeing two years to conduct engineering studies, including soil tests and boring, to determine the suitability of the land before entering into a final lease and developing the property.

In early 2014, when Boeing ended its nationwide search for a 777X site and finally selected Washington, it chose to ignore these undeveloped acres and instead placed the new wing building to the rear of its main widebody jet assembly plant immediately north of the airfield.

The news of the lease certainly fuels speculation that perhaps Boeing is now considering the property as a possible assembly site for its next new airplane. Boeing is expected next year to launch a 797, dubbed prosaically for now the New Midmarket Airplane (NMA).

“If they are going to do an NMA in Everett, that’s where you’d have to put it,” said John Monroe, a retired Boeing executive and longtime Snohomish County aerospace-development consultant.

With not enough room free in the main assembly building, he said, “if Boeing were to do it, it has to have more real estate. That 58 acres could be it.”

Boeing will say little about its plans for developing the property, and played down any suggestion that this could be for the 797.

Instead, said spokesman Paul Bergman, Boeing needs more space to store airplanes beyond the ramps outside its widebody jet delivery center east of the runway and its airplane-modification center on Paine Field’s southeast corner, currently being used to finish its 767 tankers.

“The lease supports anticipated capacity requirements for airplane storage and ongoing business needs at the Everett Modification Center and Everett Delivery Center,” Bergman said.

However, the documents state that Boeing “desires … to develop additional aerospace manufacturing facilities.”

Monroe said it’s also possible Boeing may want the land to expand its services businesses by building hangars for aircraft-modification work or airplane interior refitting.

But he’s optimistic that the real impetus for this study is the 797. He said that for an all-new plane for which Boeing is designing an all-new, highly automated production system, it will want “its most available talented team to work on it,” which he believes is here in the Pacific Northwest.

Of course, since Boeing says it is only exploring the property’s suitability, it’s likely to conduct similar studies elsewhere and keep all options open.

In a statement, Arif Ghouse, executive director at Paine Field, welcomed all possibilities.

“We are fortunate to have Boeing as a tenant,” Ghouse said. “We are happy to partner with them as they explore this lease option and what it may mean for the company and for Snohomish County.”

As Boeing studies the property it will pay Snohomish County $123,374 per year, which is a tenth of the current fair-market value of a full lease, the documents show.

A final lease, if executed, will be at the then-current fair-market value.

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