Growth planned with an uncompromising vision to serve the region’s needs
BY ELLEN HIATT
A short conversation with Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, and it’s clear that when it comes to the future of Paine Field, he has an uncompromising vision.
“Everything in this airport should be the best,” he said.
It’s a matter of seeing the potential of the place, its intrinsic value as the Crown Jewel of Snohomish County, and its potential beyond its current operations.
With a new Master Plan just hatched, Smith and the county government are looking to expand within their existing footprint to meet the needs of the region.
“We’re property constrained,” Paine Field spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said. “We are not contemplating needing any additional property and we are not anticipating adding an additional runway.”
But they are contemplating expansion to go from three gates to 10 within the next decade. With Smith at the helm, you can be assured that any enlarged airport operations will maintain the gold standard already set.
Paine Field was named one of America’s best small airports by USA Today, and lifestyle media company Monocle called it the best regional airport on the planet. They weren’t exaggerating. During the recent commemoration of the final 747 leaving the Boeing flightline in Everett, the CEO of Lufthansa flew through Paine Field for the first time.
“He said ‘You know, I don’t feel like I’m in an American airport. I have never seen a terminal this nice in the United States.’,” Smith recalled, with a smile spreading across his face. Smith doesn’t hold it a secret that the outstanding experience of flying first class with Lufthansa was the model for his inspiration.
“We have people come through here all the time who don’t expect it,” he said. “I get such a kick out of it.”
The bloom of free media is off the rose, though, after the original, pre-pandemic expansion of the facility, passenger traffic has dropped from 3,000 a day to just 2,000 passengers daily. He has work to do to put Paine Field on the map in a way that it becomes a household name. People from Northgate should be as inclined to choose to fly through Paine Field as someone from Dallas. Making the airport easily recognized as the preferable airport, saving time and hassle for travelers, while giving them a stellar experience, is his goal.
In the meantime, it has to grow. It’s a matter of stewarding the resource that belongs to every resident of the county. Paine Field, along with its larger operations by Boeing and the bevy of related on-site aerospace companies, exceeds the GDP output of SeaTAC by nearly three times, producing nearly $60 billion annually for the region.
The region is home to some of the leading Fortune 500 companies, including Costco, Amazon and Microsoft, some of which have historically maintained the highest travel budgets in the world. The need for a robust regional airport is there, and Paine Field has the room to make it happen in a big way.
“If there is one flight a day to LA and you are a business traveler, you might choose to go to SeaTAC,” explained Smith. “Having a couple flights to LA, three to four from San Francisco, two to Tucson, and potentially to Dallas,” he said, would bring more travelers to the airport. “We are hoping to get Chicago service and we don’t need to expand to do that,” he added.
Frequency of flights is crucial, he said. “Our vision is to be able to give people more choice and give them the same quality of service they want.”
Such an expansion of service would also come with more traditional, high-end airport amenities. A full restaurant service, spa services, and retail are envisioned, all while making it “a really special experience. All too often you go through airports in the US and it’s like a bus station.”
With all due respect to even the fanciest of bus stations, there is no comparison here.
“We need to make sure that we are competitive,” Smith said, “and people continue to love flying out of here, and want to fly out of here, and provide flights to places people want to go.”