Final Analysis: Paine Management

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

When I was a kid, my dad would occasionally drive the family to the airport and park the station wagon outside the fence at the end of the runway so we could watch the airplanes take off and land.

Over the years, the value of the airport as entertainment venue has waned. Today, most of us place the airport somewhere between necessary evil and public annoyance. Vehement opposition to airport development or expansion—anywhere, anytime —has become more predictable than the Mariners re-re-signing Raúl Ibañez.

And so it plays out again, this time in Snohomish County, where many residents and government officials are positively incensed that their local airport might become, well, an airport.

In December, the Federal Aviation Administration released an environmental assessment report that declared regularly scheduled airline service at Paine Field would not cause undue noise or traffic. Of course, any card-carrying member of the Not In My Backyard Alliance would dispute such a finding on the grounds that airport development should occur only in a vacuum or an Iowa cornfield, whichever happens to be farthest from said member’s frame of reference.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, which flies regularly from Bellingham to places like Maui, Palm Springs and the Bay Area, is interested in providing commercial service at Paine Field. If Allegiant get its wish, Alaska Air Group, which owns Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, will likely follow suit, just to cover its flank. This competition doesn’t mean you’ll be able to catch a flight from the Everett/Mukilteo multiplex to Sin City next month. For one thing, Paine Field doesn’t have a suitable passenger terminal, so Snohomish County, which owns the airport, would have to come up with the money to build one. And, as it happens, the Snohomish County Council and the county executive are among those who aren’t keen on commercializing Paine Field.

Still, if I could catch a convenient flight from Paine Field, I’d do it in a minute. I suspect thousands like me who live north of downtown Seattle would flock to Paine Field. And there’s the rub. People who don’t want commercial traffic at Paine Field fear the airport will get bigger while the value of their homes gets smaller. In their rush to preserve quality of life, they point to a 1978 document known as the Mediated Role Determination (MRD), which suggested that general aviation and commercial aeronautical work, specifically Boeing’s adjacent Everett assembly plant and the huge aircraft maintenance facility now run by Aviation Technical Services (ATS), should continue to be the dominant uses of Paine Field. A 2005 county task force suggested the MRD should be “retired” as a policy document, but, in 2008, the County Council rejected that finding and restated its opposition to commercial air service.

Some actually fear that commercializing Paine Field could squeeze out Boeing and ATS entirely. Boeing’s willingness to build assembly plants outside the Seattle area is an easy incitement to such silly paranoia. In reality, bringing limited commercial service to Paine Field is a wise economic hedge against placing all of the region’s eggs in the manufacturing/maintenance basket.

When it was built by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, Paine Field was actually envisioned as one of 10 new “super airports” across the United States. That prediction never came true, but Paine Field has evolved over the years—from public airfield to Air Force base, and from Air Force base to general aviation airport and manufacturing site. Failing to acknowledge the likelihood of further evolution at Paine Field will leave those who cherish stability at the expense of opportunity on the outside looking in.

 

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

Final Analysis: Won’t You Come Home, Bill Boeing?

Final Analysis: Won’t You Come Home, Bill Boeing?

How can we celebrate such a momentous birthday when the honoree doesn’t even live here?
FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Elsewhere in this month's issue you’ll find congratulatory notes honoring The Boeing Company on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. Allow me to add my own felicitations.

I just wonder if we all might get a little more jazzed about this upcoming centennial — the actual date is July 15 — if Boeing were still an honest-to-goodness Seattle company.

Sure, it still employs nearly 80,000 people in the Puget Sound region and helps drives our economy. But the day 15 years ago when Boeing announced it was going to move its corporate headquarters to Chicago is the day it essentially placed thumb to nose and said, “Buh-bye. We’re bigger than Seattle.”

I remember thinking at the time, “This makes no sense.” It still doesn’t. It was a move calculated by a CEO more interested in expediency than in legacy. Former Boeing CEO Phil Condit said it wasn’t unusual for a big corporation to have its headquarters distant from its factories. “What we are doing is being done for the benefit of the corporation,” Condit told shareholders at the time. “We want to grow The Boeing Company. If headquarters is to do its job, it must stand separate from any one of the business units.”

Seriously? Boeing is hardly a conglomerate. Despite the acquisitions of recent years, Boeing is and always will be a maker of airplanes and other things that fly through air and space. Condit wanted Boeing to be another United Technologies or another Textron, but it was really more of a true conglomerate in the 1930s, when it operated airlines, engine makers, propeller companies and other enterprises before the feds put the kibosh on all that vertical integration.

Boeing has prospered — and has helped thousands of Puget Sound families prosper — for generations. To suggest that the company is better off by having its corporate headquarters 1,700 miles from its main factories and most of its employees is just silly. What’s more believable is that Boeing wants to isolate itself from the fallout as it continues to ship jobs from Washington to less union-friendly states like South Carolina and Oklahoma. Since November 2012, Boeing employment in Washington state has declined by more than 10 percent — around 8,600 jobs — despite spectacularly generous tax incentives extended by the state Legislature to persuade Boeing to keep production of the 777X airliner in state.

It’s this kind of “thank you” — and the decamping of the corporate HQ staff to Chicago — that rubs Seattle the wrong way. We should be jumping up and down, waving balloons and having parades in Boeing’s honor next month. But am I the only one who gets the feeling that Boeing is still doing business in Washington state because it simply doesn’t want to spend the stupid sums of money it would take to move its Renton and Everett operations to cheaper “right to work” states?

Condit changed the culture at Boeing, and, judging from the difficult launch of the 787 Dreamliner, it’s a culture change that didn’t take. I’m inclined to believe his predecessors from Bill Boeing on would never have moved the company headquarters to Chicago, and I’d be willing to bet that the people who run the commercial airline business here would rather have the 500 or so headquarters people back in Seattle where they belong.

Whether that ever happens depends on what Boeing’s future CEOs value more: being proud of Boeing’s remarkable history or being fearful that its remarkable history somehow diminishes its opportunities.

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine