Proposed commission may open door for Paine Field expansion

Bill passes Senate; Liias only ‘nay’ vote
By Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau | Mar 13, 2019
The new Paine Field terminal.

Just one week after commercial air service began at Paine Field, a new commission proposed in the state Legislature may look to expanding service out of Paine Field to help relieve stress and the growing demand of service out of Sea-Tac Airport.

Creation or expansion of an airport in Washington to reduce the use of Sea-Tac would be the focus of the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission, which was created by legislation passed in the state Senate on Monday.

The bill passed in a bipartisan 45-1 vote, with Senator Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo) voting against it.

The commission would look at potential facility sites and create a short list of six sites by January 2020. One of those locations could be Paine Field.

The broad language in the bill would allow for Paine Field Airport, just outside of Mukilteo city limits, to be considered for expansion, which is something Liias opposes.

Paine Field has been undergoing expansions to passenger travel over recent years, and Alaska Airlines kicked off commercial service out of the new terminal March 4. United Airlines starts service from the new terminal March 31.

Liias said he would not support any additional expansions at the moment.

“My concern is that the bill could lead down the road to expanded flights at Paine Field, and I’m not supportive of going beyond what’s there already,” Liias told The Beacon.

Liias also said expansion would create undue disruption and noise pollution in the communities of Mukilteo, which is why he voted against the bill.

Currently, Paine Field allows for a maximum of 24 daily flights out of the terminal. Alaska has a maximum of 18 flights, while United owns six. Alaska flies to and from five airports in California, as well as Portland, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. United will fly to and from Denver and San Francisco.

Liias’ hometown of Mukilteo has been a vocal opponent of commercial air service out of Paine Field, and combated the terminal in the courtroom for many years.

Additionally, many residents in town have opposed the terminal due to concerns with noise, traffic, and the potential for decreased home values.

Residents have also voiced concerns over the Propeller Airports-run terminal becoming “Sea-Tac north” if service was to expand beyond the current maximum of 24 daily flights.

Liias did say he supports the idea of expansions to meet Washington’s needs at airfields, like the one in Moses Lake, that could handle the increased traffic.

Sea-Tac is the ninth busiest airport in the United States and 19th in air cargo volume in North America with traffic forecasted to continue growing, according to a legislative staff report.

In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funded the Puget Sound Regional Council, to look at aviation in the area and help with future planning.

Senator Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) spoke in support of the bill, noting that Moses Lake has an under-utilized airport that could be a good fit.

“We have the longest landing strip this side of the Mississippi,” said Warnick, in reference to Grant County International Airport.

The house’s companion bill, HB 1683, received bipartisan support in committee hearings. Representative Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) is the prime sponsor and has Sea-Tac International Airport in her district. Rep. Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake - the only professional pilot in the Legislature -  co-sponsored the package of bills aimed at improving aviation safety, funding, and innovation.

In the House Transportation Committee Hearing, Steve Edmiston, a member of the state department of commerce aviation impact study committee, testified in support of the bill.

“I call this a ‘what’s not to like’ bill because of the statewide economic impacts that this bill can create,” said Edmiston. Economic impacts are “no longer reserved for an isolated piece of geography,” he said. “That has been our model at Sea-Tac since 1947.”

The commission would be composed of a member of the Department of Commerce, a member from the Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, members from the private sector, members from metropolitan planning organization, and members from various ports, among others. There would be 13 voting positions and two nonvoting.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Mukilteo Beacon Editor Brandon Gustafson contributed to this report

 

 

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