On March 4, 2019, a crowd gathers to witness the first commercial passenger flight from the new Paine Field Airport in Everett. Official ceremonies, speeches by local dignitaries, and a ribbon cutting begin the event. Passengers -- invited guests of Propeller Airports, LLC, the airport's managing company -- board the Alaska Airlines Embraer 175, which takes off at 10:02 a.m., bound for Portland.
Paine Field's Beginnings
One of Snohomish County's largest WPA projects during the Great Depression was development of the Snohomish County Airport, begun in 1936 on land that at the time was far from homes and businesses. Its intended use changed when it became a military base during World War II and continued through the Korean War. Its name was changed in 1941 to Paine Field in honor of local World War I Air Corps pilot, Lieutenant Topliff Olin Paine (1893-1922).
Paine Field saw mixed military and commercial use until the 1960s, when Snohomish County began managing the site, opening it for greater commercial development. In 1966, the Boeing Company chose adjacent property to build the 747, establishing a strong emphasis at Paine Field for aviation-related industry. Over the years businesses operating there included Alaska Airlines, the Willard Flying School, Curtis-Wright Fly Systems, Crown Aviation, Honeywell, and Goodrich Aviation Technical Services.
Long-range planning in the 1970s suggested development of a commercial airport at Paine Field. By this time, residential communities and small local businesses bordered the site, and while the idea was popular with many residents, there was intense opposition regarding the expected impact of noise and traffic. Environmental studies were done and in 2012 the FAA approved plans for a Paine Field Airport to be managed by Propeller Airports, LLC. The Snohomish County Council worked with residents on changes to mitigate the impact on surrounding communities. When the original number of proposed daily flights was increased, modifications were made to the original abatement plans. The neighboring town of Mukilteo filed a lawsuit, but in 2015 a court decision cleared the way for airport development. In February 2019, Alaska and United Airlines announced they would combine to operate up to 24 flights a day from the Everett terminal.
A Public-Private Endeavor
Snohomish County partnered with Propeller Airports, LLC, to build the terminal facility. Although Paine property is owned by the county, Propeller invested nearly $50 million in the project and managed the operations. Both beauty and convenience were top considerations in the design of the terminal, described as having a first-rate passenger lounge with comfortable, attractive seating, two fireplaces, a cafe, and many windows that offer views of the Olympic Mountains.
On opening day, there were two regular screening lines and one TSA pre-check line. Valet parking was available, with easy entrance for dropoffs, and parking lots were situated near the terminal's front door. Airport officials expected to see many day and business travelers, as well as tourists, since the Future of Flight Museum, the Boeing Tour Center, the Museum of Flight Restoration Center, the Flying Heritage Collection, and the Historic Flight Foundation were only a short distance from the airport. Passengers could easily be dropped off or park a car, check a bag, and be at their gate in 10 minutes.
Propeller Airports, LLC, is a subsidiary of Propeller Investments of New York. As stated on their website, the company seeks to lead "in the privatization and development of airports in the United States, focused on transforming airports and their operations through public-private partnerships" (Propeller Airports website).
Regional and national media carried stories for months ahead of the inaugural flight, and on March 4, 2019, journalists recorded comments from visitors and residents excited about the airport, most expressing how much faster it would be for north-end Puget Sound travelers to get to Paine Field as compared to Sea-Tac Airport.
The first flight drew a crowd of dignitaries, airport staff, passengers, and visitors. While passengers on the first flight were chosen by Propeller, others had purchased tickets for a second Alaska flight later to Las Vegas. Aviation enthusiasts and others dreaming of future trips also came to witness the moment.
Propeller CEO Brett Smith, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers spoke to attendees. A statue of Topliff Paine was unveiled with the help of Nicholas Moe and Thomas Paine, grandnephews of the Lieutenant. A bit of comedy was added when Smith attempted to break of bottle of champagne against the terminal wall. Three failed attempts later, he popped the cork instead, sending a stream of bubbly into the air, accompanied by a chorus of laughter and cheers.
The inaugural flight aboard the Alaska Embraer 175 departed for Portland at 10:02 a.m. The Alaska flight to Vegas left shortly after 10:30 a.m. According to its website, Alaska Airlines planned to run 18 flights daily from Paine Field Airport to Portland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose. United Airlines flights were scheduled to begin to San Francisco and Denver on March 31, 2019.
Mayor Franklin expressed delight that the new airport would showcase the city of Everett and Snohomish County. As County Executive Dave Somers added:
"This is an exciting time for Snohomish County and the entire Puget Sound region. Today we begin a new era. Through our innovative partnership with Propeller Airports, we have finally realized our dream and the vision of those who built Paine Field 83 years ago. Snohomish County has a new gateway to the world ... Paine Field is already the economic engine of the county and adding commercial air service will make us much more attractive to businesses looking to invest and for tourists wanting to visit the Pacific Northwest" ("Flight Lines ... ").