Delayed takeoff: FAA to review environmental assessment of commercial flights at Paine Field

MUKILTEO, Wash. – The likelihood for new commercial flights in and out of the North Sound could be grounded – temporarily – due to a new development from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paine Field believes passengers could begin taking off as soon as this fall, except now federal regulators believe a new environmental impact review could push the opening date into 2020.

Plus, some who live near Paine Field worry the increased air traffic could have a big-time impact on their quality of life.

“I can see the advantages as someone who flies infrequently, it sure would be convenient to have a second airport,” said Scott Bleakney, who works near Paine Field, also called the Snohomish County Airport.

Bleakney thinks commercial airliners serving the North Sound could be a good idea.

“I don’t know how many people would really use this airport,” he said. “It’s not going to be like Sea-Tac, where you have international flights.”

While tens of millions of dollars are being poured into a new passenger terminal for the three airlines that have shown interest in operating in Mukilteo, the FAA says the projected 24 daily flights mean it’s time for a new supplemental environmental assessment.

“We have a sleepy airport right now,” said neighbor Ted Petterson.

Some neighbors hope the delay could mean a new chance to voice opposition for commercial flights in the North Sound.

“It’s going to affect the quality of living of everybody in this neighborhood,” said Petterson. “It’s going to be millions of dollars in property value and just the aesthetics of the whole thing, the noise level, is going to go up.”

“I’m kind of used to it,” said neighbor Krista Kibbe, “I’ve been here 20 years so I’m conditioned to it.”

Kibbe also worries what could happen to the Mukilteo she already knows if hundreds of airline passengers begin using her backyard as an airport.

“We already have a lot of congestions due to Boeing, due to Speedway and Airport Road,” she said, “I don’t know how we can accommodate all that extra traffic.”

So far, Southwest, United and Alaska Airlines want to operate out of the airport when the terminals are complete.

The FAA says a preliminary analysis of the environmental impact will trigger a 30-day public comment period – and their full study may not be complete until the year 2020.

Below is the full statement the FAA provided to Q13 News:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided to do a supplemental environmental review of the proposed commercial air service operations at Paine Field in Everett, Wash.

In 2012, the FAA completed an environmental assessment (EA) and issued a finding of no significant impact/Record of Decision for an initial proposal to begin commercial service at the airport. However, air carrier service never began there. Today, there are new proposals for commercial service involving more airlines, more aircraft operations, and a different fleet mix than what was originally proposed. As a result, the FAA concluded that a re-evaluation of the proposal is required. Because the nature of the proposal is generally the same (initiation of commercial service), the FAA determined that a supplemental EA is the appropriate level of review.

The supplemental EA will involve a review of the environmental impacts associated with these proposed changes. The FAA and the subject airlines have established a scope and schedule for the supplemental Paine Field EA. The FAA will release the results of its preliminary analysis for public review and a 30-day comment period before making any environmental determination. A supplemental EA generally can take between six to 18 months,depending on the nature and complexity of the project and the analyses required.

Possible outcomes include a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or the need to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Commercial service cannot begin at Paine Field before the FAA makes its environmental determination.

Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, shared a statement with Q13 News reacting to the FAA’s announcement:

“The county and Propeller have received all of the necessary approvals and we will be ready to provide commercial service this fall.  The FAA has already approved commercial service at Paine Field and all that remains is for the FAA to approve the specific airlines and their aircraft.”