Paine Field the hot topic at ‘Business Before Hours’

QUIL CEDA VILLAGE — Commercial air service at Paine Field was the topic of the morning at the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce’s “Business Before Hours” Oct. 31, which drew a broad cross-section of supporters, and at least one notable voice of dissent.

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QUIL CEDA VILLAGE — Commercial air service at Paine Field was the topic of the morning at the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce’s “Business Before Hours” Oct. 31, which drew a broad cross-section of supporters, and at least one notable voice of dissent.

The Tulalip Casino hosted a panel moderated by David Chin and comprised of Todd Brunner of Brunner Construction, Dan Russo of Horizon Air, Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall, 38th Legislative District Rep. John McCoy, and Snohomish County Council member John Koster.

Brunner is based in Lynnwood and co-chairs Fly Paine Field. He cited statistics that Paine Field is currently only operating at 45 percent of its capacity, and stated that it would “only need modest improvements” to host commercial air service. He went on to tout the value of local commercial air service to both business travelers and the elderly and handicapped, the latter for whom he anticipated that traffic delays to Sea-Tac Airport could be even more trying, to the point of discouraging some of them from flying at all.

For those who “worry that Paine Field would become Sea-Tac North,” Brunner listed the airports of Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., as three examples of larger commercial airports with smaller commercial airports within 100 miles, and assured attendees that restrictions on numbers of flights from Paine Field would allow it to complement Sea-Tac’s commercial air service, without being consumed by it.

Brunner also described commercial air service at Paine Field as complementary to the further development of “aerospace hubs” of business and technology in the Snohomish County region. With the county’s expected growth in the near future, he further asserted that commercial air service from Paine Field would ease the traffic burdens on Interstate 5, and boost both tourism and commerce in the region.

Russo is Horizon’s vice president of marketing and communications, and had earlier announced Horizon’s intentions to implement daily commercial air service from Paine Field before next summer. He echoed Brunner’s expressed concerns about traffic, and held Paine Field up as a potential connection to Portland, Ore., Las Vegas and Spokane, “which is the gateway to Northern Idaho.”

Russo deemed the costs of driving to, and finding parking at, Sea-Tac to be prohibitively expensive in a number of cases, and likewise played up the “unpredictability” of travel time to Sea-Tac. He then promised that commercial air service at Paine Field would “grow new jobs” in the region, and pledged that Horizon would be “a good neighbor” to the community.

Part of that commitment, according to Russo, would manifest itself in Horizon’s 76-seat Bombardier Q400 high-speed turboprops, which are 10 decibels quieter than similar sized jets, and more than 20 decibels quieter than MD-80 jets. He proudly added that even London and Toronto, which limit noise at their city center airports, have allowed Q400 flights. The Q400 aircraft also burn 30 percent less fuel and produce 30 percent lower emissions than similar sized jets.

“That’s far less carbon emissions than are produced by driving alone on I-5,” said Russo, who also hoped to install “quick, easy, get-in-and-get-out” check-in technology.

Kendall reported that the Marysville City Council had unanimously passed a resolution expressing support for commercial air service at Paine Field, which reiterated many of Brunner and Russo’s contentions regarding job retention and promotion, easing traffic demands on existing infrastructure, accommodating anticipated population growth, and fostering both tourism and the area aerospace industry. The resolution also included Allegiant Air among those who are interested in offering commercial passenger air flights from Paine Field.

“I’m here wearing two hats,” McCoy said. “I’m the general manager of Quil Ceda Village, but I’m also the representative of the entire 38th district.”

In both his roles, however, McCoy made a case that commercial air service at Paine Field would represent “an excellent economic driver” for Snohomish County as a whole. He referenced the current nationwide economic downturn, and recalled that “we built our way out” of the Depression. Moreover, he personalized the argument that local commercial air service could boost tourism dollars, by noting that the casino is no stranger to visitors from the Pacific Rim.

“You know what the state’s number one tourist attraction is?” McCoy asked. “Our ferry system, as unbelievable as it sounds.”

At the same time, McCoy touted the wide variety of attractions that the region has to offer, including skiing, hiking, fishing and white-water rafting, all of which he contended that local commercial passenger flights would make more accessible.

“We’re on the PR map,” McCoy said. “Darrington has an international archery tournament, and Skate America had one of its biggest turnouts here.”

McCoy pointed out that the Tulalip Tribes had also passed a resolution, six years ago, in support of commercial air service at Paine Field, and that they’d never rescinded it, and had no intentions of doing so.

“I have to leave three hours before my flight time to get to Sea-Tac,” McCoy said. “If it takes me longer to wait for the flight than to drive, I’ll drive.”

Koster has set himself apart from his peers with his support of commercial air service at Paine field, since all four other Snohomish County Council members, and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, stand opposed to it. Koster acknowledged that “emotions run high” on this issue, but sought to counter them by asking his audience to face what he deemed the reality of the situation.

Koster cited the millions of dollars in federal grants that Paine Field receives per year, on the condition that the county not discriminate against passenger air service. If the federal government determines that the county has failed to negotiate adequately to make Paine Field available for such commercial use, then Koster warned that the option exists for Paine Field’s title to revert to the federal government, which sold it to the county after World War II. Moreover, Koster fears that the loss of federal grants to Paine Field, which uses those monies to help fund maintenance and improvements, could result in Paine Field finding itself non-compliant with the terms of its long-standing arrangement with Boeing. Koster added that a Boeing departure from Paine Field would, in turn, result in thousands of lost jobs.

Al Aldrich, chair of the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce, clarified after the “Business Before Hours” that the discussion on Paine Field had not been intended to act as a debate on the pros and cons of the issue, since the Chamber had already disclosed its position on the issue. However, Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine seemed to have missed this memo, when he offered a scathing rebuke of commercial air service at Paine Field.

“It’s fitting that we’re doing this on Halloween, because like Frankenstein, you run the risk of creating a monster that you can no longer control,” Marine said.

Marine disputed the claim that commercial flights would be limited to five to 15 per day from Paine Field, arguing instead that, if Paine Field became a successful commercial airport, it would be looking at closer to 150 flights a day.

“If we lose the lease, the FAA will take over, and we’ll have no say in anything,” Koster said to Marine. “I’d rather negotiate the best deal for the county than have them tell the county what to do.”

Marine insisted that members of Congress such as Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell and Rick Larsen could work around the federal government’s terms, and repeated his belief that, by contrast, once commercial air service is in, it will be impossible to control.

“Everyone, mark your calendars for this,” McCoy said, before drawing the biggest laugh of the event, “because John Koster and I agree on something.”

McCoy acknowledged that Murray, Cantwell and Larsen wield significant influence, but he disagreed with Marine’s view that they could circumvent the rules, and echoed Koster’s concerns about being able to negotiate with commercial air service, rather than being dictated to by the federal government.

Afterward, Marine conversed amicably with Aldrich, Brunner and others whose views differed from his, but he nonetheless lamented that the event couldn’t have offered a more balanced perspective on the issue.

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