Commercial passenger flights from Paine Field took a big step forward Monday with a New York firm winning authority to start designing a regional terminal there.
The long-contested idea of allowing commercial passenger flights from Paine Field took a major step forward Monday, after Snohomish County narrowly approved an agreement allowing a New York firm to start designs for building a regional terminal.
By a 3 to 2 vote, the Snohomish County Council approved a lease-option agreement that gives Propeller Airports three years to carry out the preliminary design work and environmental studies to obtain permits necessary to build a proposed two-gate passenger terminal.
Once the work is complete, the company could then sign a 30-year lease with two optional 10-year extensions, officials said.
“If all things go correctly, hopefully people will be able to fly out of (Paine Field) in a couple years,” Brett Smith, chief executive of Propeller Airports, said Monday.
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Foes of the plan say they’ll keep fighting.
“There are many steps that remain before commercial flights begin,” Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said in a statement. “The county’s permit and review process should assess all direct and indirect impacts that could stem from allowing commercial flights.”
Under the agreement, Propeller Airports would eventually cover the costs to build and operate the terminal and pay Snohomish County a ground lease estimated at about $450,000 per year, Smith said. The county also would receive a 2.5 percent share of annual terminal revenues for the lease’s first four years, with a 5 percent share each year thereafter. At full operation, the terminal would support up to 16 regional flights a day, Smith said.
“But that would be years down the line,” he said. “This would be nothing like Sea-Tac Airport.”
The county airport, near Everett’s Boeing plant, doesn’t have a passenger terminal.
The subject has been politically contentious in Snohomish County for years, as opponents have said passenger flights would disrupt the area’s quality of life.
The council’s approval is expected to activate a dormant federal lawsuit over the issue. Opponents sued the Federal Aviation Administration after that agency issued a report in 2012 clearing the way for commercial passenger flights out of Paine Field. A judge stayed the case last year until a valid proposal for a terminal came forward.
“This is a huge move forward in a historical battle that’s been going on in Snohomish County since I’ve been alive,” County Councilmember Ken Klein, who voted in favor of the agreement, said Monday.
Klein, who said he expects the agreement will spur economic growth in Snohomish County, joined Councilmembers Dave Somers and Terry Ryan to approve the agreement, with members Brian Sullivan and Stephanie Wright voting against it.
With the lease option in place, Smith said Monday he’ll seek airlines interested in providing passenger flights from Paine Field.
“Understanding this business, we believe the market is there,” he said. “Certainly, we would love it if a hometown airline were serving the terminal.”
In the past, Allegiant Air, which flies to small cities including Bellingham, has expressed interest in commercial flights out of Paine Field. Alaska Airlines has also said if another carrier starts flying out of Paine Field, it would pursue commercial flights there, as well.