Editor’s Note: The Case for Paine Field

It’s time for the airport in Snohomish County to take some of the pressure off Sea-Tac.

Mukilteo is a divided community when it comes to Paine Field, the airport next door. Aviation enthusiasts who love to see the vintage aircraft buzzing about have bumper stickers that read “I ♥ airplane noise.” Anti-airport activists, by contrast, apparently play a parlor game called “Stop That Project!” in which guests are asked to come up with creative ways to block new developments.

Both sides, says Steve Bertrand, author of the book Paine Field and a resident of Mukilteo, are worried that “if you open the door, [Paine Field] will mushroom into another Sea-Tac.”

That’s not likely given that Paine Field’s aircraft operating area is roughly half that of Sea-Tac Airport. But Sea-Tac is operating beyond its capacity. And in spite of billions of dollars it plans to spend on expansion, virtually every expert agrees our region we will soon require a second commercial airport to address demand from the Puget Sound area’s burgeoning population. We believe Paine Field should become a far more serious launching pad for commercial air service than the 24 flights a day currently planned. 

While there are also large airfields at Moses Lake and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the history and location make Paine Field the smarter choice. Here’s why:
1. Paine Field, built with New Deal money to create a commercial “super airport,” was completed in 1936 long before the grumbling neighbors ever moved into the area. Commercial development was only delayed because the airfield was repeatedly diverted to military use.

2. The noise at Paine Field that neighbors complain about mostly comes from small aircraft that use an east-west runway that forces those planes to fly right over Mukilteo. Larger commercial planes use a north-south runway, which is parallel to the community and, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, does not significantly affect the neighborhood. 

3. When the area around Paine Field was finally developed in the late 1960s, it was for a Boeing 747 factory as well for the employees and suppliers who would service that factory. This community today remains heavily dependent on aircraft manufacturing. To apply a “not-in-my-backyard” argument against a product the region heavily depends on is disingenuous.

4. With Sea-Tac situated south of Seattle, it makes sense to have a second airport north of the city where it will be more accessible to the growing population in that region, and where fewer people trying to reach an airport will have to drive through the center of Seattle.

5. Paine Field is likely to be serviced by light rail as part of an effort to provide transportation to the thousands of employees who work in the area for Boeing and its suppliers. No other airport besides Sea-Tac will have such access to transit.

People say a new airport should be built where fewer people live. When Paine Field was built, that was precisely the case. Now that the region needs an airport to sustain its growth, Paine Field should fulfill its original mission as a thriving commercial airport.

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