Alaska Airlines Tries to One-Up Southwest at Boeing Field

Oct. 4--Alaska Airlines has formally declared a tug of war over Boeing Field, submitting a competing bid to Southwest Airlines' proposal to begin flights at the small airport.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines sent a proposal to the King County Executive's Office late Friday outlining plans to offer 68 flights a day and to build a $150 million terminal with eight gates. The airline estimates that it eventually could offer 100 Alaska and Horizon departures daily.

"We really are opposed for any airline to locate at Boeing Field," said Joe Sprague, head of government and public affairs for Alaska Air Group. "But if any competitor did, we simply would have to respond to that by having flights of our own at Boeing Field."

In July, Southwest Airlines made a similar proposal to start flying out of Boeing Field, beginning with 60 daily flights and eventually growing to 85. The Dallas-based company, which did not return calls seeking comment yesterday, has said it would build a $130 million terminal with eight gates.

Kurt Triplett, chief of staff for King County Executive Ron Sims, said it would be impossible to accommodate both proposals at Boeing Field.

Combined, the airlines are proposing to build 16 gates and 128 daily flights with the possibility of expanding to a total of 185.

"Our cap is no more than 13 gates and 130 flights a day," Triplett said.

The airlines are eyeing the same piece of land next to the current terminal at Boeing Field, which is officially known as King County International Airport. The busy airport serves a mix of private, cargo and corporate planes, as well as providing private hangars.

Southwest Airlines and King County had been discussing the possibility of a move to Boeing Field for more than a year, with the airline complaining that the costs at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are out of control and significantly higher than at all of the other airports it uses.

Sea-Tac is in the midst of a $4.2 billion expansion that includes building a third runway and enlarging the terminal. Construction is funded by airline landing fees and rents. Even with the expansion, the airport expects to reach its capacity in 2021.

Alaska's proposal threw a few barbs at the Southwest plan. Southwest has emphasized that it will fly only its "most quiet" 737s into Boeing. Alaska, which also expects to use 737s, said in its proposal that "the reality, however, is that jet and turboprop airplanes generate noise."

While Southwest has pledged not to fly between midnight and 5 a.m., Alaska said it will fly only between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Public meeting

County Council Transportation Committee will meet at 6:15 p.m. tomorrow to take public comments on Southwest Airlines' and Alaska Air Group's proposals to move from Sea-Tac airport to Boeing Field. The meeting will be held in Council Chambers, 10th floor, at the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Avenue, Seattle.

Under Federal Aviation Administration rules, the county is required to review any proposal for commercial service.

The county executive's office says it won't move forward until issues of noise, traffic and economic impacts are addressed. Public hearings are planned on both proposals in November.

Triplett said Sims will not decide whether to forward a proposed lease agreement to the King County Council until the end of the year.

The Federal Aviation Administration has the final say over how the airspace can be used at both airports.

"Clearly this situation has snowballed beyond one airline requesting to operate a few flights out of Boeing Field," said Terri-Ann Betancourt, spokeswoman for Sea-Tac.

She said that airport officials understand why airlines are considering adding service there to compete with Southwest, but "moving airlines to Boeing Field doesn't maintain a level competitive playing field. It does just the opposite."

Community and government officials have criticized Sims, who currently is running for re-election, for considering Southwest's proposal.

Magnolia and Georgetown residents have complained about the noise that would be generated by 737s. The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the state's congressional delegation and Alaska Republican Don Young, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives committee on transportation and infrastructure, have called Southwest's plan a misuse of public resources. The Puget Sound Regional Council says it has thrown chaos into a decade of transportation planning.

But several Metropolitan King County Council members say the Southwest proposal should be studied.

The King County Council plans to take public comments on the proposals tomorrow night.

BOEING FIELD TUG OF WAR:

--June 14: Southwest Airlines' discussions with King County to move from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Boeing Field become public.

--June 22: Alaska Airlines says it too may shift flights to Boeing Field if Southwest moves.

--July 21: Southwest submits a formal proposal to the King County executive to build a $130 million, eight-gate terminal and start offering 60 flights -- 120 takeoffs and landings -- a day.

--July 26: The Port of Seattle puts $580 million in airport-expansion projects -- including the connection to Sound Transit's light rail -- on hold until the fate of Southwest is determined.

--Sept. 30: Alaska Air Group sends its formal proposal to the King County executive to build a $150 million, eight-gate terminal and start offering 68 Alaska and Horizon Air flights a day.

Source: Seattle Times archives

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