Paine Field reopens Saturday after a nearly 10-week hiatus in which ramp asphalt was resurfaced with more-durable concrete.
For now, the airport will offer once-daily Alaska Airlines flights to Phoenix and Las Vegas and a United Airlines flight to Denver – down from the pre-pandemic 10 destinations Alaska alone once offered, though up from the airline’s lone daily flight to Phoenix when Paine Field closed for repairs.
How long it will take the Everett airport to rebuild commercial passenger numbers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is unclear. It was averaging about 3,000 daily passengers until that plummeted to roughly 50 a day within a few weeks after the pandemic struck.
“I don’t think air travel is going to come back until we either have a vaccine or there’s a rapid test that’s easy to perform — so it’s hard to tell,’’ said Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, a company managing Paine Field’s passenger terminal in a private-public partnership with Snohomish County. “Your guess is as good as mine. Obviously, we want it to come back and we’re going to do it in a safe and healthy manner.’’
Propeller had initially expected to phase in the ramp repairs over four months from June to September, but decided — with airport usage only a fraction of what it had been — to shut operations on May 22 and get everything done in just under 10 weeks.
The passenger terminal drew more than 1 million travelers its first year —making Paine Field the fastest growing airport in the country — after launching in March 2019. Smith said those numbers and the airport’s smaller size and easily accessed facilities have him optimistic for a rebound once the pandemic subsides.
“Because you can get in and out of there quicker, I think that will appeal to a lot of people if they have to travel,’’ Smith said. “You can get in and out of our facility in five to 10 minutes. You can’t do that at Sea-Tac – and I’m not knocking Sea-Tac, but obviously it’s a much bigger operation. So, we have the benefit in that case. It just depends on who wants to go to those three destinations.’’
Propeller Airports has implemented temperature screening of all Paine Field passengers and made mask-wearing mandatory within the terminal.
Smith added that crews will be “constantly cleaning the facility.’’ He expects passenger volume to be small enough that social distancing within the airport won’t be an issue.
Propeller will “lose millions of dollars’’ to the pandemic, said Smith, who has forgone his salary for now. The company invested roughly $1.5 million on the runway work and hasn’t laid off any of its 20 employees.
“We did well in our first year,’’ he said. “And if that’s indicative of how that’s going to go, we’ll be good with it.
“We are anxious to get people flying and continuing to provide everybody with this unique experience that you don’t find in most airports.’’