EVERETT — Located in Snohomish County, Washington (population 801,633), some 38 miles north of SeaTac Airport (SEA), Paine Field Airport (PAE) has long been home to Boeing’s wide-body production, as well as aircraft overall, maintenance, and refurbishment.

It is fitting that a place that has launched so many first flights is now launching an innovative regional airport concept that is likely to be a model for bringing commercial service to underserved communities across the country.


What on the surface seems like an obvious solution to overcrowding at SeaTac, is much more groundbreaking than that.

This is a public-private hybrid, which is looking to change the way municipalities and airport authorities work with the private sector.

Propeller is a new kind of company, that will take on a large share of the risk of airport operations from local governments. It looks to take what has been done here at PAE and re-create the model in parts of this country that have not seen commercial service.  

A rendering of the commercial airport terminal at Paine Field in Everett. (Photo: Propeller Airports)

In its partnership with Snohomish County, the land is owned by the County and leased to Propeller. The company then designed and built the terminal for upwards of $50 million.

Not stopping there, Propeller will then bring its expertise to deal with the complexities of operating and running the commercial airport.

The Flight Operations

Initially Alaska airlines will start off with 18 daily nonstop flights to eight cities, including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Las Vegas. United will begin its services on March 31, 2019 and will be connecting to its Denver and San Francisco hubs.

The new terminal for commercial service really spruces up the well-worn and aviation history-infused atmosphere of Paine Field.  

When you pull up to the new PAE terminal, it initially looks as though Boeing has built a new customer experience facility.  

On closer inspection, you notice the hallmarks of a small airport: things like an automated gate guard for parking and signs directing you to check in. The facility itself has a warm, modern Northwest feel – something like walking into an upscale hotel.

As we toured the facility, I was impressed with the well-designed layout. The space is efficient and well-organized.

This terminal almost feels like a luxurious fixed-base operation (FBO). From the curb, you step into check-in counter area— large windows fill the check-in area with light, and will be perfect picture frames for the ever-changing Northwest storm clouds.

From security, you reach a very large waiting area with the two gates.  The view from the waiting area will certainly tantalize the avgeeks among us.

An aircraft maintenance facility is within full view off to the side of the waiting area. From there, any avgeek will be able to see the shiny new jets being delivered to customers and all the other things Boeing is currently working on.

The operations at PAE are likely to have a positive impact the surrounding community, near and far from the flight path.  

When I arrived at the terminal at 05:45 in the morning, there was quiet anticipation in the air as the press and staff anxiously waited for things to begin.


I was off to one side when I noticed a gentleman walking in with a roller. I was surprised that no one else noticed him as he walked up to the check-in kiosk.

I watched him press his confirmation code onto the screen, and I realized that I was watching the first check-in at this facility. I asked him if I could interview him when he was finished—he looked a little puzzled but said yes.

His name was Richard and he lives in a suburb that is 10 miles due east of PAE. He is a business traveler, who typically flies 1 to 2 times a week.  

It would normally take him 1 ½ to 2 hours just to get to SeaTac airport, but his trip to PAE will now take him a short 12 minutes.

I asked him the obvious question of whether he felt that this facility would change his work life for the better. He looked at me incredulously and said: “oh yeah, it definitely will.”

With destinations like San Francisco and Las Vegas, PAE is likely to see its fair share of vacation travelers from the communities north of Seattle.

Indeed, not less than a half hour after the first passenger checked-in at the terminal, a bewildered looking family got out of a Yellow cab. They were traveling to Las Vegas, and it looked as though they had just assumed that this airport had been here all along.

They couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on and why so many people wanted to interview them. Most of the press there thought that they were the first pax at the terminal!


The terminal’s impact is not only on travelers but also on the local economy.  As I was taking pictures of the aircraft that was scheduled to leave for Portland, I noticed a young woman sweeping up and making sure things stayed tidy. She told me that she had been hired two weeks prior, and her previous fast food job had no medical benefits even after two years.  

She now has a job that pays $14.50 an hour, and in a couple of more months, she will obtain medical, dental and vision benefits for herself and her two children.

This airport, like others, is critical to bringing long-term community development and economic stability to the region.  The operations at SeaTac result in the direct employment of more than 150,000 people in the Puget Sound region, and another 50 to 60,000 indirectly.

Even a two-gate airport like the one at Paine Field, can bring in hundreds of stable, livable wage jobs. It really was great to see this kind of thing in action.

Paine Field is perfectly situated for explosive growth.  The area north and east of the new airport is populated with high-tech employees and plenty of well-off retirees.  

Once people from the North Sound region take advantage of this convenient facility, they will not want to go back to the hassle of making the long drive south to SeaTac airport.

The cities of Bellevue, Redmond, Bothell, and Woodinville represent a huge population of upper-middle-class travelers. Seems to me that there is a real possibility that this facility could be running at full capacity before the year is out.

It will be interesting if their seemingly constricted footprint can make way for future expansion. The thought of these two airlines switching over to 737-900ERs a few dozen times a day makes me think that this serene terminal is going to look like a Target in Terre Haute on black Friday.  

This company’s leadership and vision makes the commercial aviation industry so much more interesting; this could be the 787 of airport terminals – namely, a game changer.