Flying blind at Boeing Field

The Southwest Airlines public-relations machine is at full volume concerning its proposed move from Sea-Tac International Airport to Boeing Field (King County International Airport). Unfortunately, Seattle residents are not matching the carrier's noise with hard questions and harder facts about the impact such a change will have on the region.

Considering the number of people who live in the immediately affected areas of Georgetown, Beacon Hill and Magnolia, few have shown up at community meetings to voice their dissent over the proposed move with Southwest Airlines and King County representatives. While this citizen apathy continues, Southwest Airlines and King County Executive Ron Sims are running their own campaigns of vague promises of regional benefits, but very few people are listening closely to what they're saying.

Sims called Southwest Airlines' "generous" with its $130 million relocation-investment proposal. However, Southwest Airlines wants to limit the spending to its new passenger terminal, parking garage and any "accommodations" it must make for increased airport traffic.

This doesn't include improvements to the existing road system, for Ron Ricks, a Southwest Airlines senior vice president, deemed the roads feeding into the Boeing Field area "adequate." Ricks is citing an older traffic study done by the county, a study that didn't take into account the affect a major airline would have on the area if it set up shop at Boeing Field.

With this in mind, Ricks also neglects to mention that each of the airline's projected 80 flights per day will drop off about 200 passengers and pick up about 200 more. These people will need to get to the airport somehow using cars, taxis or buses. Light rail is out of the question, for it's going to Sea-Tac Airport.

The roads near Boeing Field include state Route 99, Interstate 5, East Marginal Way South, Airport Way South and the residential streets of Georgetown. All of them will be inundated with these people. Seattle, already nationally known for its horrendous traffic, will see its gridlock problem worsen if local officials act on Rick's assertion that these roads are "adequate." If improvements are deemed necessary, Ricks has said Southwest will not pay for them, and Sims has said taxpayers won't pay either.

Speaking of Sims, for an official who claims to be merely "entertaining" Southwest's proposal, he speaks highly of the potential "thousands of new, permanent jobs" the airlines will bring to Boeing Field. But how would they be new?

Southwest will simply shift its workers from Sea-Tac to Boeing Field and hire a few additional workers to help with the extra planes it would add. Sims' assertion of job creation glosses over the inevitable displacement of the dozens of existing small and large businesses for the sake of one large company.

A prime example of this is Seattle-based UPS - a Boeing Field tenant - that has a large workforce of its own, both in the air and on the ground. Their displacement hasn't been considered by elected officials or Southwest.

The UPS could venture to Everett or Renton, but residents around those respective airports have successfully fought against more air traffic in their areas. This leaves UPS with Sea-Tac, and its jobs would go with it.

As for the "Billionaire Boys Club" (Paul Allen and company) who have hangars on the field, they at least choose to hire local people to fly and maintain their planes and work in their offices. The same can't be said of Southwest Airlines. Again, the airline would shift their national workforce and hire only a few more people from the local labor pool. Companies hire in-house first.

As for the small companies currently operating on Boeing Field, they would ultimately close when faced with paying for the expensive, federally mandated security measures that are required of passenger airports in our post-9/11 world.

And what about the train lines running alongside Airport Way? They will also be forced to pay for security improvements to accommodate the transformation of Boeing Field into a heavily used, commercial passenger airport.

If Southwest moves, the intense increase in air traffic will mean that general-aviation pilots won't be able to land in between Southwest's flights. This can be remedied, providing Southwest expands its hours of operation to spread out the 80 Boeing Field flights. Ricks has hinted that his company has considered adding more operational hours if they settle into Boeing Field.

Such an expansion is not good for the Georgetown, Beacon Hill and Magnolia neighborhoods. They will be most affected by Southwest flights roaring overhead. Ricks was even quoted as saying Southwest might operate red-eye flights (between midnight and 5 a.m.) in the future.

Southwest is a large company, but a single airline can't influence the Federal Aviation Administration to change flight patterns any more than Seattle's citizens have over the decades. So much for the talk about getting the flight patterns shifted away from some of these neighborhoods and over Elliott Bay.

In addition, Southwest won't pay for soundproofing of homes, schools and businesses. The tenants of the Boeing Field Apartments at the northeast corner of the field would be innundated with the noise of Southwest's flights and the increasing traffic they would bring. Southwest also refuses to pay for the relocation of the dozens of businesses that will be forced to move because of the constant noise of 80 flights per day.

Questions need to be asked, and Seattle residents need to ask them, en masse and at public meetings. It's up to all of us - regardless of where we live in Seattle - to look beyond the rhetoric pouring from Ron Sims and the mouthpieces at Southwest Airlines to hear what's not being said.

Erik Hansen is editor of the Beacon Hill News & South District Journal. You can write them both via

Vera M. Chan-Pool is editor of the North Seattle Herald-Outlook and the Madison Park Times. She is a former longtime resident of Beacon Hill.

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