Thursday, January 25, 2018

Southwest will join airlines flying from Everett’s Paine Field

Southwest Airlines will be the third passenger airline to fly out of Paine Field in Everett, boosting the planned number of total daily departures to 24 flights.

That’s 50 percent higher than airport officials cited last year when introducing the future passenger terminal.

Though that may rile some local residents already concerned about increased airplane noise, Snohomish County officials contend the airport activity will still be within the parameters outlined in its environmental-impact assessment.

The Dallas-based carrier said it will operate five flights daily after the new terminal opens in September. It will fly Boeing 737s, larger than the Embraer E175 regional jets that Alaska Airlines and United plan to operate initially.

“We’ve wanted to grow in the Seattle metro market for quite some time. But Sea-Tac airport is constrained,” said Southwest Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Kelly in an interview. “Paine Field will be a wonderful alternative for our customers.”

Southwest said it will provide details on destinations and schedules in the spring.

The airline’s move brings the new commercial air terminal to full capacity, with a total of 48 daily takeoffs and landings.

Earlier this month, Alaska announced the eight Western destinations for its 13 daily departures from Paine Field. United plans six daily departures, to Denver and San Francisco.

More flights than anticipated

Brett Smith, chief executive of New York-based private equity firm Propeller Airports, the developer of the passenger terminal, said in May that he anticipated a maximum of 16 departures per day from the airport, based on typical turnaround times for aircraft docking at the new airport’s two gates.

Snohomish County’s environmental assessment assumed the same number of daily departures, for 32 takeoffs and landings.

Deputy airport director Bill Dolan said in September that if the airlines worked out a way to have faster turnaround of airplanes at the two gates, this would not trigger an additional review unless it was deemed to add a “substantial” new negative impact.

United and Alaska operating the smaller 76-seat Embraer jets will allow for faster turnaround times than if they used bigger jets.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said his staff members have told him “we’re good with the existing analysis.”

Smith said in an interview Wednesday that even with the higher number of flights, the smaller jets mean the flights will carry fewer than the 3,600 passengers per day (1,800 arriving and 1,800 departing) assumed in the environmental assessment.

His calculation assumes flights will not be completely full.

If all seats were filled on the planned departing and incoming flights, that would mean more than 4,300 passengers coming and going per day. With typical average passenger loads of around 85 percent full, that total is just over 3,600 passengers.

Increased air traffic

Still, the airlines are gung-ho about future expansion possibilities.

Southwest’s Kelly said he initially expects to fly his smallest aircraft, the 737-700 or the 737 MAX 7, on the route. “If demand is greater than what we’re thinking, then we can up-gauge to the MAX 8 or the 737-800,” he added. The 737-800 carries about 30 more passengers than the 737-700.

He said he’d like to see the airport grow beyond two gates in future, so “we could add service over time.”

Smith, who has faced resistance to the commercial-air terminal from residents around the airfield concerned about increased noise, was quick to dampen this talk of expansion.

Smith said requests by any of the airlines to increase the size of aircraft flying a specific route will “not be automatic.”

The airport would have to look at the impact of increased passenger traffic, he said.

As for adding more gates, “We have no plans,” he said.

Even the current plan, with commercial air travel adding 48 takeoffs and landings per day, will substantially increase large aircraft traffic out of the airport.

Operational data supplied by the airport show large aircraft flown by Boeing, aircraft-maintenance firm ATS and the military together last year accounted for a daily average of just 12 landings or takeoffs per day out of Paine Field.

It’s small private aircraft that do most of the flying at the airfield.

Airport officials said small planes averaged 285 operations per day in 2016, counting not only landings and takeoffs but repeated touch-and-go pilot-training maneuvers, each equivalent to a landing and a takeoff.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave preliminary approval for commercial flights out of Paine Field in 2012. Now that the final details on proposed air traffic are nailed down, the FAA must review the specifics, including the impact on ground traffic and on airport noise.

Airport director Arif Ghouse said the FAA “will look at the full impact” before issuing operating certificates to the airlines and to the airport.

That approval is expected in time for the terminal to open this fall.

(Dominic Gates - The Seattle Times)

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