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"What would it be like if Washington state's Paine Field grew?"


Sunday, December 17, 2006

What would it be like if Paine Field grew?
How four other cities were affected by expanding airports
By Bill Sheets
The Everett (WA) Herald

When commercial airline traffic at Paine Field is debated, two very different scenarios emerge.

According to one, commercial airline service would bring convenience to Snohomish County residents and businesspeople.

Proponents say high-tech, well-paying jobs and smart, limited development would follow.

In the other scenario, opponents say mainly low-paying service jobs would be created.

Airport Boulevard would look like the Sea-Tac Airport strip with a hodge-podge of rental car businesses, chain restaurants and strip joints.

Home values around Paine Field would drop and more owners would rent out their homes, destabilizing neighborhoods.

Some residents could even experience health problems from noise and pollution, opponents say.

Commercial service hasn't been formally proposed for Paine Field, and no airline has expressed interest.

But members of the Everett business community are pushing for passenger flights at the airport, backed by a 2002 county study that concluded it would be good for the area's economy.

Last year, residents mobilized against the idea. Five south Snohomish County cities - Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway - have approved resolutions opposing air passenger flights.

County Executive Aaron Reardon appointed a 12-member panel of officials and businesspeople to update the 1979 document that indirectly discourages airline flights at the county-run airport.

Thursday, the group met for the last time and failed to come to a consensus on a recommendation for the airport's future, leaving the issue in the hands of Reardon and the council.

Many other suburban areas have already gone down the road of bringing commercial traffic to airports previously used only by the military or smaller, private planes.

Most of the secondary airports in the largest metropolitan areas on the East Coast and in California have had passenger service since the 1950s or earlier.

In some cases, a city's second airport became the biggest, such as New York's JFK International, Chicago-O'Hare and Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International.

Other cities such as in Phoenix and Orlando started secondary airports in the past decade.

These satellite airports bring money into their communities and noise and environmental issues. Airports grow at varying rates, often reflecting the growth of the surrounding area.

Airports today are operating in a different climate, unable to regulate flights and noise as in the past.

Following is a sampling of four airports.

John Wayne Airport, Orange County, Calif.

John Wayne Airport is located next to the cities of Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, 41 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. Started in 1923 as an airstrip for a flight school, it began regular airline service in 1952.

In 2005, the airport handled 9.6 million passengers on 14 airlines. By comparison, Los Angeles International handled more than 61 million passengers in 2002, and Sea-Tac accommodated 29.2 million passengers in 2005.

John Wayne airport has air cargo flights and still serves small, private craft.

As the airport grew in the 1970s, lawsuits were filed against airport owner-operator Orange County by residents and the city of Newport Beach.

In 1985, a 20-year agreement was struck in which the airport was allowed to grow with restrictions. These include a nighttime curfew on flights, a rule requiring pilots to take off steeply to reduce noise under the flight path, and limits on terminal size and noise.

A major terminal expansion in 1990 brought in more airlines and more flights - roughly double the amount before, according to Barbara Lichman, a Newport Beach resident who has battled the airport over the years.

Newport Beach, a well-to-do shoreline city with similarities to Paine Field neighbors Mukilteo and Edmonds, is located directly under John Wayne's flight path to the south.

Some parts of the city are among the noisiest in the airport's flight paths, according to Lichman. Property values, however, continue to climb as fast as the jets, she said.

"It hasn't seemed to affect us," said Lichman, who parlayed her fight with the airport into a career in airport law.

Unlike Paine Field, a factor working in the city's favor in keeping noise down is that John Wayne's runways aren't long enough for the largest planes, such as 747s.

"The level of noise is less than what you'd find at a comparable airport," she said.

On the business side, the airport is "definitely an economic booster," Lichman said. "You should see the area around John Wayne Airport."

It features mid-rise hotels, condos and commercial buildings, restaurants and not a single strip club, Lichman and others said.

The airport "pretty much changed the nature and type of development that went in there," said Stan Oftelie, former CEO of the Orange County Business Council. "It attracted a significant amount of high-tech business."

Beginning next year, the airport plans to expand again - adding what will be the a third terminal building and more parking.

The nighttime flight curfew was set to expire last year, but Newport Beach and the residents agreed to the expansion in exchange for extending the curfew to 2020 and other parts of the agreement to 2015.

"Airports have a huge effect on local economies," Lichman said. "It's how do you make it friendly to your citizens."

Regarding John Wayne, "so far it's been friendly," she said - because of the agreement.

Long Beach Airport, Long Beach, Calif.

Like the airport in Orange County, Long Beach Airport was established in 1923. The Long Beach City Council voted to set aside land for an airstrip.

The airport was developed and used by the military from the 1930s through World War II. In 1941, an art-deco style terminal was completed, and the airport began limited passenger service.

Also in the early '40s, Donald Wills Douglas, one of the founders of what would become the McDonnell-Douglas aircraft company, began operations next to the airport. Boeing acquired McDonnell-Douglas in 1997 and currently manufactures its 717 twinjet and the C-17 there, according to the airport.

The airport, located about 20 miles from both the Los Angeles and Orange County airports, grew slowly. In 1981, Long Beach, which still owns and operates the airport, approved laws to regulate airport noise.

"The airport is completely surrounded by a very stable residential community," airport spokeswoman Sharon Diggs-Jackson said. "There's no way to fly in and out of this airport without flying over a residential neighborhood."

In 1983, Alaska Airlines and other carriers sued the city over the noise regulations. In 1984, residents sued in response to the airlines' suit.

After a series of court rulings and appeals, the city, airlines and residents agreed in 1995 to a kind of strict "noise budget" for the airport. Today, it limits larger commercial jets to 41 flights per day and smaller commuter planes to 25 flights. Last year the airport handled about 3 million passengers.

In 2001, airline JetBlue brought in 26 flights per day, bringing the airport to the ceiling of its noise budget.

Now, the airport is considering adding new boarding lounges, parking, concessions and security facilities. Officials say it's not to expand, but to relieve overcrowding. Some residents are skeptical.

"Our fear is that the city will build excess capacity above the 41 and 25," said Joe Sopo, a member of LBHUSH2, an airport watchdog group.

"It's not if, but when, our noise ordinance is challenged in a court of law," he said.

Sopo, a real estate agent, said the airport doesn't seem to have affected property values of nearby homes. But in the past couple of years, buyers have suddenly become wary of living in the flight paths. He said he isn't sure why.

More than 200 businesses are located on airport property, including mid-rise business parks and hotels, according to the airport.

Regarding strip joints and other sex-oriented businesses, "you won't find any of that here" on Lakewood Boulevard, Diggs-Jackson said.

The airport is a big part of Long Beach's economy, said Mark Bixby, a commercial real estate developer who helped start a nonprofit business organization called the Long Beach Alliance to promote the airport's economic benefits.

"If you're going to be a modern, progressive economy, you have to have a functioning airport," Bixby said.

He pointed to a Cal State Long Beach study that estimated that $7.8 billion in economic activity is generated by the airport.

On the other side, Sopo said another study showed that less than 20 percent of the airport's users live in Long Beach.

"The people here in the neighborhoods put up with the noise and pollution for the 80 percent who don't live around here," he said.

Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport

Civic leaders organized in 1938 with the idea of creating a municipal airport and bought 438 acres two miles north of the city center.

A flight school was established in 1945 and limited commercial flights began the following year.

In 1957, voters approved a $3.5 million airport bond for runway expansion, a new administration building and land for airport expansion.

A second runway was added and both runways were lengthened over the years. A terminal building was added in the 1960s and passenger volume quadrupled.

Jets using the south end of the airport's runways fly directly over a residential neighborhood. In 1968, the city of San Jose, the airport's owner-operator, began a $75 million noise abatement program.

As part of the program, nearly 1,400 homes were insulated in the 1980s and '90s. Each property eligible for full insulation received about $35,000 in upgrades to block noise.

In the 1980s, a curfew was started prohibiting aircraft over a certain weight to fly into the airport at night. In 2003, the curfew was changed so it is now based on noise. Airlines pay $2,500 per violation.

The Silicon Valley dot-com boom drove passenger traffic to a peak of 13.8 million in 2000.

After the dot-com bust that followed, San Jose's traffic dropped to 10.8 million in 2005.

According to a 2002 economic report, the airport generates 70,000 jobs, $4 billion a year in direct spending and $136.6 million a year in taxes.

Residents say they recognize the airport's economic value. Still, they have concerns.

Ed Rast, a member of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association southwest of the airport, said the airport hasn't hurt home values in his community. Homes located more directly under the regular flight paths, however, have been affected, he said.

"Their values are less than those that are not (in the flight paths)," he said.

Rast said the city has recognized the key is keeping homes away from the flight paths as much as possible, through land-use restrictions.

In some areas, the city changed zoning from residential to commercial, allowing homeowners to sell to developers willing to pay high prices for the property, Rast said.

Other residents have a different concern: pollution. For years, those in the Rosemary Gardens area east of the airport have smelled kerosene, said Kenneth Hayes, president of Citizens Against Airport Pollution.

Kerosene is a base ingredient in commercial jet fuel, and the prevailing wind blows across the airport to the southeast, Hayes said.

Hayes' group is trying to get San Jose to spend curfew violation money on monitoring to determine how much pollution is coming from the airport. So far, the airport has balked.

Hayes, a retired physician, said he's not sure if airport pollution has affected residents' health. Cancer statistics, he said, are sorted by county rather than neighborhood.

Hayes cited studies at other airports that have linked health problems to airports. That's something opponents to expansion at Paine Field have done as well.

Next year, construction is scheduled to begin on a $1 million expansion of terminal space and parking.

"We want San Jose to have a tasteful airport that accommodates people comfortably," Hayes said. "Hopefully, as it gets bigger the planes will get quieter and burn cleaner."

Naples Municipal Airport, Naples, Fla.

Naples Municipal Airport fought the law and won.

A federal airport law passed in 1990 made it difficult for airports to restrict noise and put other conditions on flights.

In 2005, an appellate court judge ruled that the Naples Municipal Airport could ban older, noisier jets. It's the only airport to pass those bans and get them upheld in court since the law change, said airport spokeswoman AnneElena Foster.

The five-year battle cost the airport, owned by the city of Naples, about $3.4 million in legal fees.

The airport started as an Army Air Corps base during World War II. In the 1950s and '60s, one airline, Provincetown-Boston Airline, served the airport, later to be acquired by the now-defunct Eastern Airlines, Foster said.

The airport had minimal regional passenger service off and on over the years. Noise was a concern in the 1980s but there weren't enough flights for the airport to impose curfews and other restrictions, Foster said.

In the 1990s, the Gulf Coast of southwest Florida boomed. The Naples area grew more than 65 percent, from about 150,000 to about 250,000 from 1990 to 2000, according to census figures.

The number of airlines didn't grow much, but charter and private jet traffic serving the affluent area took off, said Cam Zarroli, who lives north of the airport.

The airport is an economic driver, generating more than $95 million in economic activity in 2002, according to airport figures.

The airport formed a noise advisory committee. A voluntary nighttime curfew is in effect and pilots are asked to fly as much as possible over less populated areas.

They don't listen, according to Zarroli, who has lived in the Wyndemere community since 1986.

"You can't sit outside," he said, especially in the winter when traffic is high.

Zarroli said the airport, combined with noise from a nearby freeway, has affected property values in his community.

He described the airport's growth as "insidious."

"It's the old story, too much of anything is no good," he said.

Paine Field's flight path

Agreements of the type struck in Orange County, Long Beach and San Jose that limit flights and noise have become scarce in recent years, and they're likely to remain so.

That's because of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, which limited airports' ability to impose restrictions on flights in exchange for air carriers' quicker conversion to newer, quieter jets.

The agreements reached at the California airports were based on lawsuits filed before the new law took effect. Any restriction on flights now has to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It set up a very difficult path for getting approval of new noise regulations," said Dick Marchi, senior advisor for policy and regulatory affairs for Airports Council International, a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbies on behalf of airports.

Paine Field expansion opponents heard this answer for themselves last year. Greg Hauth, president of Mukilteo-based Save Our Communities, wrote the FAA asking if flights can be restricted once commercial service begins.

"Generally, the airport may not impose restrictions on the type of aircraft, the frequency of flights or the time of day of operations," responded Carol Key, an FAA supervisor at the district office in Renton, in a letter dated Dec. 12, 2005.

"The exception to this rule is if the restrictions are necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the airport," Key wrote.

City and county governments can't legally stop air passenger service even if they want to, according to Denver attorney Peter Kirsch, an expert in airport law.

They can, however, state their preference.

With Paine Field, the panel appointed to review airport policy last week laid that option back into the laps of county elected officials.

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