A week after King County announced it would seek to ban flights from Boeing Field that carry detained immigrants, a company that has serviced those flights is making the county’s wish a reality sooner than expected.
Modern Aviation, a so-called “fixed base operator” at King County International Airport, commonly known as Boeing Field, told the county it will stop work for charter flights operating on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), county officials said Thursday. The other two fixed base operators at the airport, Signature Flight Support and Kenmore Aero Services, have both said they will not take over from Modern in servicing ICE flights, according to airport director John Parrott.
Without the help of such companies, flights cannot operate at the airport. Though they can technically take off and land, Parrott said, flights need a company to open gates, to provide stairs to get passengers on and off planes, and to offer fuel.
“They made a business decision and the county is appreciative,” Parrott said of Modern’s decision.
ICE offered no immediate reaction, but reiterated its displeasure at the county’s pressure. “It’s unfortunate to see yet another example of local policy-making aimed at intimidating ICE and our partners, particularly when such policies harm the very communities whose welfare they claim to protect, by making it more difficult to remove criminal aliens who prey upon the innocent,” the agency said in a statement.
ICE has deported roughly 34,000 people over the last eight years using Boeing Field, according to a report issued last week by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights. The agency also uses the airport to bring in detainees bound for the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.
Parrott said he did not know if Modern could stop servicing ICE flights immediately, or if it had contractual obligations to the charter company working for ICE, Swift Air, that would cause a delay. This is not something that will happen in, say, 2025, he added. “This is a near term change.”
The county cannot outright forbid ICE flights from using Boeing Field because of requirements by the federal government, which provided the land for the airport. Instead, county Executive Dow Constantine, citing human-rights concerns about detaining and deporting immigrants, signed an order directing airport officials to negotiate new leases with fixed base operators that would accomplish the same goal. Though Modern Aviation took this step on its own, the county still intends to negotiate new leases, Parrott said.