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Originally published June 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 6, 2008 at 8:12 AM

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FAA says county must talk to Allegiant Air

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned Snohomish County officials that they must negotiate with a commercial airline that...

Times Snohomish County Reporter

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned Snohomish County officials that they must negotiate with a commercial airline that wants to introduce passenger service to Paine Field Airport or risk federal grants for airport improvement.

In a letter to airport director David Waggoner, an FAA district manager said, "Failure to negotiate in good faith may subject the County to an enforcement action" and could put continued receipt of federal funding at risk.

The County Council on Tuesday adopted a resolution against commercial flights from Paine Field, citing long-standing opposition in the surrounding communities to increased air traffic and the negative impact it would have on neighborhoods.

Despite the FAA warning received Thursday, local officials said they would still fight commercial flights.

"We're still very opposed to commercial air service," said Christopher Schwarzen, spokesman for County Executive Aaron Reardon. "We don't think it fits with the surrounding community."

County Councilman Brian Sullivan said the county will ask U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Jay Inslee and Sen. Maria Cantwell to lobby the FAA on the county's behalf.

He said the airport should maintain its supporting role in commercial aerospace manufacturing for companies such as Boeing, whose production and delivery centers are adjacent to Paine Field.

Allegiant Air, a low-cost carrier based in Las Vegas, last month notified the county that it wanted to begin twice-weekly flights from the Everett airport to Las Vegas. Allegiant currently flies from Bellingham to several vacation destinations in California and Arizona and to Las Vegas from the Tri-Cities.

Reardon and three members of the Snohomish County Council immediately condemned the proposal and notified Allegiant that they would vigorously oppose efforts to begin commercial air service.

But business leaders and airport advocates argued that refusal to consider commercial flights could jeopardize federal grants for airport improvement that since 1945 have totaled $57 million.

Airport officials say that another $50 million in repairs to taxiways and runways are needed in the next five years, the same time that Boeing is ramping up production and delivery of its new 787 Dreamliner.

The FAA letter, dated Wednesday from Seattle Airports District Office Manager Carol Key, said that grant provisions require that the county "make the airport available as an airport for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination to all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical activities, including commercial aeronautical activities offering services to the public at the airport."

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The letter concludes that to "ensure continued receipt of federal funding, you must negotiate in good faith with Allegiant Air."

In its May 12 letter of interest to Paine Field, Allegiant Air Vice President Robert Ashcroft noted that the airport's current 1,000-foot terminal would not be adequate to serve the 150-passenger MD-80s that the airline flies. Ashcroft also noted that expanded parking facilities and ground support would have to be secured before passenger service could begin.

Sullivan said Thursday that if the county is forced to negotiate with Allegiant, it will require a "world-class terminal" as well as traffic and noise mitigation and restricted hours for flights.

Residents of the cities surrounding the airport have fought commercial air service for at least 30 years. The cities of Mukilteo, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood all passed resolutions against it.

And opponents argued that a policy statement known as the Mediated Role Determination precluded airport expansion beyond general aviation, aviation-industry-related uses and private commuter flights.

A review by a citizens panel appointed by Reardon concluded a year ago that federal law does not allow the county to prohibit scheduled passenger service, but the county does not have to subsidize service and can make airlines pay their own way.

Sullivan believes there is precedent for a county airport to refuse commercial service.

In 2005, Southwest Airlines proposed to leave more expensive Sea-Tac Airport and build its own passenger terminal at Boeing Field in Seattle. King County executive Ron Sims ultimately rejected the proposal after protests from neighbors, the Port of Seattle and other airlines using Sea-Tac.

Said Sullivan, "If King County can say no, why can't we say no?"

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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