Boeing today opens a new delivery center at Paine Field, where it can hand off wide-body planes to their buyers in style. To allow certain high-profile...

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Boeing today opens a new delivery center at Paine Field, where it can hand off wide-body planes to their buyers in style.

To allow certain high-profile jet deliveries to be celebrated with even greater panache, Snohomish County is spending $5.5 million, much of it federal money, to build a taxiway that will link the delivery center to its Future of Flight aviation center.

But the county has another, harder-edged motive for the taxiway: it wants to open up the northwest side of the airfield for potential expansion of Boeing’s flight line — and to make it possible, said Bill Dolan, deputy director at the county-owned airport, for Boeing to build its replacement for the 737 narrow-body jet in Everett.

“It’s for future Boeing development,” Dolan said. “It could be the wide-bodies or the next generation narrow-bodies. We want (Boeing) to think they have enough ramp at Everett.”

New Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Scott Carson told a Seattle audience earlier this month the site for producing a new narrow-body jet isn’t yet under discussion. Boeing spokeswoman Leslie Hazzard reiterated that Friday:

“We have no plans for that (Paine Field) expansion.”

Boeing’s Renton-built 737 is selling well, with yet another new 32-jet order from Ryanair announced Friday. But a replacement jet program isn’t far off. It is expected to launch as early as 2008 and enter service in 2012.

Snohomish County officials are putting money down for that future. The cost of constructing the taxiway and ramp is $5.5 million, Dolan said, with some $4 million covered by federal grants. He said the taxiway will open access to some 40 to 45 acres of developable airport land.

Deborah Knutson, chief executive of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council, said the airport improvements are intended to “ultimately help Boeing with their decision.”

Knutson said local government officials aren’t focused on competition between the two Washington cities, but “on the bigger picture of making sure the 737 replacement stays in Washington state.”

“We’re thinking about it and doing some planning for it,” she said. “I’m sure Renton is doing that within reason as well.”

Still, she couldn’t resist a playful dig. “But we have more to offer than Renton does,” she said, laughing.

Boeing is certainly thinking about giving its airline customers a better experience in Everett.

Previously, when a customer came to Everett to fly away a $200 million wide-body jet, Boeing handled the transaction in a bland one-story building that could have passed for a used-car showroom with furniture straight out of a 1960s office and only a small window looking onto the airfield.

Today, Boeing opens the remodeled delivery center, a showroom fancy enough to give the jet set what Jack Jones, director of field operations and delivery, called “a world-class feel” when they show up to take an airplane.

The new look features a boldly slanted glass facade facing the flight line where the airplanes sit, and a small second-floor observation deck. The center has plush, high-tech conference rooms and 27 private offices for customers.

Here, the deals are finally sealed. When the money from an airline bank account moves into Boeing’s, an off-site employee monitoring the company account calls to tell the delivery staff to go ahead.

But no, the customer doesn’t pick up the keys. There’s no ignition key on a jet. Boeing used to provide ceremonial keys to the cockpit door, but even that is dispensed with now that the new post-9/11 security doors use combination locks.

The new center will be for routine deliveries. For blow-out celebrations to please certain customers once the taxiway and ramp are finished this fall, Boeing will park outside the Future of Flight museum and hire the facilities for fancy catered affairs.

For the past five months, during construction of the delivery center, customers have made do with a temporary double-wide trailer.

Today, Japanese freight carrier Nippon Cargo Airlines will fly away a 747 freighter, the first customer from the new delivery center.

The pilot will fly over the bulldozers grading the taxiway, a signal that Everett dreams even bigger.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com