Airport passenger service for Paine Field clears court hurdle
Last updated 3/10/2016 at Noon
Opponents of commercial passenger service at Paine Field are looking at their options after losing a court fight to block the proposed service.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled against the cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds and the citizens’ group Save Our Communities, who argued against the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to permit passenger service.
The ruling opens the door for a New York-based development company to build a two-gate passenger terminal at the airport. Last year, Snohomish County approved an option and lease agreement with Propeller Airports to build and run the terminal.
Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said the court’s ruling appeared to rest on the requirements from an FAA Part 119 certificate, which allows further environmental reviews, but the city and other petitioners are more concerned about Part 139, which limits further environmental reviews and, Gregerson said, “which is our concern in opening the floodgates to air service.”
When the FAA released its finding in 2012 that there would be no significant impacts on surrounding communities on a proposal to permit about two dozen flights per day, opponents noted that the Part 139 certificate doesn’t require further reviews should the number of flights increase over time.
Gregerson said the city is looking at options to allow the courts further consideration of that concern.
The three-judge panel said the FAA’s findings were based on reasonable projections of potential air traffic. Should other airlines decide they’d also want to enter the market here, further reviews and approvals would be required, the court noted.
However, it’s not clear if any airlines are interested in serving Paine Field now.
Alaska Airlines previously had expressed some interest in using the airport through its Horizon division, but mostly, airline officials said, if other airlines planned to enter the market.
Allegiant Air, which specializes in secondary markets like Bellingham where it now provides service, had previously been interested in Paine Field, but didn’t want to commit to a long-term agreement with Snohomish County.
Gregerson noted that opponents still have a county appeal of the lease option, and “should Propeller successfully find interested airlines, they’ll need to move forward with their own environmental review.”
“We will be at the table ensuring all impacts are considered and accounted for,” the mayor said.
She said residents also will be able to participate and provide comments during that review.
Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling was out of the country this week and unavailable for comment on the court ruling.
Attempts to talk with Mike Moore, president of SOC, also were unsuccessful before deadline.