Alaska Airlines’ commitment to provide passenger service at Paine Field next year underlines the region’s need for additional airport capacity.

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THE Puget Sound region’s need for a second large, commercial airport is increasingly clear as Sea-Tac International Airport approaches capacity and population grows outside Seattle.

Paine Field in Everett is the clear choice. Years of legal challenges by surrounding communities are coming to an end, and development of a new passenger terminal is progressing.

Even so, the biggest affirmation of this vision for Paine Field came this week when Alaska Airlines announced that it will begin providing regional service there in 2018.

For the company and the region, this is a small but significant step to begin proving the potential of Paine Field.

Alaska is proceeding carefully because it’s sensitive to continuing opposition that some have to Paine Field passenger service.

At the same time, the airline knows its hometown market can support the service because Snohomish County and surrounding areas have around 1 million residents, many of whom are members of Alaska’s loyalty program. For them, the drive to Sea-Tac can take as long as their flight to a regional destination.

Alaska will operate nine of the roughly 16 flights a day planned for the terminal.

For Alaska, that’s about the same number of daily flights that it provides in Eugene and Ketchikan, and more than double what it provides in Yakima and Walla Walla.

The region should simultaneously begin discussing longer-term plans to expand Paine Field beyond this small, two-gate terminal.

Sea-Tac is expected to reach maximum capacity in 2034 or earlier, despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to expand its terminals.

Airport capacity is essential to support the Puget Sound region’s continued economic growth, not to mention its role as a gateway to the Pacific Rim and the commercial hub of the nation’s most trade-dependent state.

Like the San Francisco Bay Area, the Puget Sound region will eventually need multiple commercial airports to support its residents, tourists and concentration of global companies.

Since it took this long to get 16 commercial flights at Paine Field, imagine how long it will take for the region to agree and build a more substantial airport facility to complement Sea-Tac.

Paine Field’s progress and Alaska Airlines’ commitment are a tremendous start. They should inspire state and regional leaders to start planning for the next expansion of this critical infrastructure.