Southwest Airlines won't move about the county free of charge

Recently, Southwest Airlines approached King County about moving their operations from Sea-Tac Airport to Boeing Field, which is owned by King County. Federal law requires King County to give consideration to any airline's proposal to operate at Boeing Field. However, the law does not require the county to blindly accept any proposal offered.

When and if King County Executive Ron Sims transmits a Boeing Field proposal from Southwest Airlines or any other carrier, I intend to continue asking the tough questions about noise, flight paths, traffic, infrastructure investments, neighborhood impacts and competitive advantages within the airline industry. Unless all of these areas of concern can be satisfactorily laid to rest, major commercial carrier passenger flights will not be landing at Boeing Field.

Noise & flight paths

As it exists today, Boeing Field is not a good neighbor. Planes approaching Boeing Field must fly below Sea-Tac Airport's flight paths. This sends freight airplanes over homes in Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard, West Seattle and Georgetown at altitudes low enough to disturb sleep and interrupt conversations.

In 2002, the Metropolitan King County Council approved a noise reduction plan for Boeing Field. The plan was a culmination of nearly a decade of negotiations between residents, county officials and representatives of labor and business.

Despite these efforts, airplane noise from Boeing Field continues to detract from the quality of life of many residents in Magnolia and other Seattle neighborhoods bordering Boeing Field.

Among the recommendations in the "Federal Aviation Regulation Part 150 Noise and Land Use Compatibility Plan" was implementation of an instrument-approach procedure to bring planes in over Elliott Bay and avoid over-flight of residential areas, especially Magnolia. The difficulty now is getting the FAA and pilots to implement this new approach.

If the noise reduction plan has yet to adequately mitigate Boeing Field's existing air traffic, what will it cost and how long will it take to address the increase in noise from the addition of 80 or more commercial flights every day? And who will pay those costs?

As mitigation for the third runway at Sea-Tac - the region's designated commercial airport - local and federal taxpayers have invested millions of dollars to insulate homes, schools and businesses against noise, as well as to buy out buildings too close to the proposed runway. At what point does further investment in mitigation around Boeing Field begin to duplicate those costs and efforts?


Southwest's proposal, as I currently understand it, does not include funding for any improvements to transportation infrastructure to accommodate the increase in air travelers going to and from Boeing Field.

With all the local, state and federal transportation dollars invested in improving highways around Sea-Tac, it doesn't make sense for taxpayers to duplicate those investments at Boeing Field. After years of planning, the region's goal of bringing a light rail connection to the airport is on track to become a reality in late 2009. If passenger airlines begin moving instead to Boeing Field, have we invested in bringing commuters to the wrong airport?

Neighborhood impacts

Most homeowners who bought their homes in Magnolia, Georgetown, West Seattle or other neighborhoods impacted by Boeing Field did so with the understanding that they were locating near an airport that served freighters and small crafts.

If this region decides to open Boeing Field up for large-carrier passenger operations, we must conduct an extensive public process to thoroughly consider the impacts to property values and quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding Boeing Field. They deserve to know the noise, traffic and environmental impacts such a change would bring.

Mitigation measures such as noise insulation, home buy-outs, road improvements and neighborhood amenities must be identified and should be paid for by the airlines benefiting from the move - not taxpayers.

Competitive advantage

The room for growth at Boeing Field is constrained by the size of the property. We have seen Southwest's proposal begin to create a domino effect within the airline industry. Other airlines fear the lower costs and room to expand that Southwest would gain at Boeing Field would give the airline a competitive advantage within the Seattle market share.

Other airlines must now consider whether moving all or part of their operations to Boeing Field would make them more competitive in the difficult airline industry. But Boeing Field can accommodate little more than 100 additional passenger flights per day, which means there isn't room for all the airlines that would benefit from moving to Boeing Field.

How does King County choose which airline or airlines deserve the competitive advantage?

These and other concerns will not be ignored. My King County Council colleagues and I have heard extensively from our constituents on this issue. We are listening and intend to make Southwest listen as well.

If the obstacles cannot be overcome, then commercial passenger airline service will not be permitted to come to Boeing Field.

Larry Phillips is chair of the King County Council and a resident of Magnolia.

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