Snohomish County was going to get a passenger terminal one way or another. American development corporation Propeller Airports has been granted a long-term land lease, to the tune of an eventual $25 million, to construct a two-gate terminal at Paine Field (KPAE). This is the airport, as most of you probably know, where Boeing builds the 747, 767, 777, and most 787s.
The airport will be operated as a public-private partnership between Propeller Airports and Snohomish County. Paine Field currently operates with a total of 305 daily movements (very few of them are actually Boeing’s). The airport has been described as operating at a mere 45% capacity. This terminal will likely kick that up an additional 5%, better translated as an additional sixteen aircraft movements.
No matter how close to residential areas the airport is, the public good and possible economic development for Snohomish County outweigh the complaints of ever-quieter airliners landing at Paine field.
Ignore the noise argument as a non-starter, as Paine Field is home to Boeing’s largest, wide-body final assembly line, filling the skies with some of the largest passenger aircraft in existence on an almost daily basis. The fact is, most aircraft likely to serve Paine Field in the next few years are going to be of the smaller and quieter variety; like the Q400 and regional jets.
So we’ve established that, yes, Paine Field is going to become a passenger airport. Though those details are developing, let’s take a look at what this means for those of us who live closer to Paine Field than they do to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The east side of Seattle is a hard-to-define metroplex. Most people agree, at least, that it contains Bellevue, Kirkland, Bothell, and Redmond. After that, the lines get blurred.
The population of this area is not large – probably only about 300,000 people. Larger when you count the areas in Snohomish County. But despite that fact, it has a booming economy. Microsoft, Expedia, and Boeing, to name a few.
I’m just going to come out and say this. Do not expect flights to major business markets from Paine Field right away. Sea-Tac is the airport in the area with all the star power. It offers international connections, proximity to the financial district in downtown Seattle, as well as longer runways. It’s basically the only game in town.
What can us Seattle eastsiders and residents of Snohomish County expect to see flying from Paine Field once the passenger terminal is constructed, then? Well, I would not be surprised to see flights, probably operated for Alaska Airlines by Horizon, to Portland on Dash-8s (Q400s). How many per day? That depends. It’s nigh impossible to actually find solid demographic data on who would go north to fly to Portland. We can assume a potential catchment area, but I hate making statements without actual data. Let’s assume that Alaska will operate roughly two flights a day (one in the morning and one in the evening) to either capture or create a market for business flyers.
Two Q400s a day (one on weekends) is not going to be enough to pay back the investment costs of a passenger terminal. So let’s look at the MD-80 in the room. What airline plays outside the game, but still makes money? What airline loves to fly out of seemingly distant secondary fields to leisure markets? Allegiant, of course! Allegiant is the perfect airline to help get the new passenger market at Paine Field established. While the airport has yet to even establish a category of passenger landing fees, or support charges, we can assume that they will be priced lower than its southern neighbor. Music to Allegiant’s ears.
Allegiant will, of course, fly to their gambit of leisure destinations at their strange frequencies – but they know both what they can do for Paine Field, and how they can shake up the leisure/vacation market that Southwest currently has a lock on out of SeaTac.
Will Southwest fight back with flights out of Paine Field itself? I, honestly, doubt this. The airport may just not have a large enough passenger terminal to sustain many flights.
Either way, more choice for consumers as to where to fly from is never a bad thing.