Plan Won't Fly


Apr 17, 2003

King County Executive Ron Sims on Tuesday rejected proposals by Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines to move to Boeing Field, saying the combined service would have required taxpayers to fund expensive roadwork and noise-insulation projects around the airport.

Sims said the initial proposal from Southwest Airlines to build a $130 million terminal at the county-owned airport was "refreshing in its boldness and generosity." But after competitor Alaska Air Group demanded equal access this month, it became clear that costs to accommodate both would be too high, he said.

"At that point, our traffic and noise thresholds would have been crossed," said Sims, who is running for re-election this fall. "It proved to be fatal on all counts."

Stunned Southwest officials said they were disappointed that their proposal was killed before it was fully studied. But Chief Executive Gary Kelly said the company would accept and respect the county's decision.

"We can take 'no' for an answer," he said. "From the beginning, we said we had neither the power nor the desire to impose this project on the community."

The Dallas-based low-fare carrier remains concerned about high costs at Sea-Tac Airport but has no immediate plans to change its service there, Kelly said. Southwest is committed to serving Seattle, he said, though he didn't rule out searching for alternative airports in the region or cutting flights if expenses continue to escalate.

The announcement was celebrated by neighborhood groups, business interests and Port of Seattle officials, all of whom had ferociously opposed a move.

Some critics argued that concentrating passenger service at Sea-Tac would focus limited transportation dollars where they're most needed -- and spare communities incessant jet noise.

Less-vocal residents who believed increased competition would lead to cheaper fares were disappointed that Sims backed down.

"I feel as a consumer they benefit me with all these low fares," said Param Parameswaran, an e-commerce businessman and frequent traveler. "What I would not like to see is Southwest leave the place ... and I think we should consider all those facts."

For neighborhoods close to Boeing Field, and in its flight paths, Tuesday's news was hailed as a grass-roots victory.

"It's a great relief, and my constituents are probably doing cartwheels right now with the executive pulling the plug," said County Council Chairman Larry Phillips, who represents Magnolia residents living under a main approach path to Boeing Field.

Mark Cooper, who moved into the Georgetown neighborhood at the toe of Boeing Field's runway 18 months ago, became one of the proposal's first critics when Southwest's intentions leaked out in June.

"We're thrilled and overjoyed that sense has prevailed over dollars," he said. "You don't need 'professor' in front of your name to figure that out."

Kathy Nyland, who owns a Georgetown gallery and gift store called George, was close to ecstatic Tuesday. She said she had a feeling that Sims would eventually reject the plan.

"I just think that, as more and more details were coming out, that it didn't look like a clean deal," she said. "And I think it was wearing on him. In his mannerism and speech, he seemed more and more tired."

Sims' announcement came as a huge relief to many of his campaign supporters, who wish he hadn't waited until four weeks before the general election to make it. Some have urged the two-term Democrat for several months to reject Southwest's proposal, figuring he had nothing to gain and much to lose in his re-election campaign against County Councilman David Irons Jr.

Irons questioned why it took so long for Sims to come to the same conclusion that had been so obvious to every major elected official and chamber of commerce in the region.

"The only conclusion you can come to is that he came to a snap decision to cut his losses because he couldn't take the heat," Irons said.

Sims, however, dismissed notions that killing Southwest's proposal was politically motivated. If that was a driving factor, it would have made more sense to wait until after the November election to talk about negotiations with the low-fare carrier.

Sims said initial studies showed that Southwest's proposal to move up to 85 flights from Sea-Tac to Boeing Field might have required only minor road improvements and wouldn't have significantly added noise pollution.

But Alaska's proposal to build its own $150 million terminal in the same spot and launch a similar number of flights changed the landscape, said Kurt Triplett, Sims' chief of staff.

That could have required highway improvements and expanded the circle of homes around Boeing Field that are so affected by plane noise that they are eligible to receive soundproofing and insulation at the government's expense.

Sims said those were never burdens that he was willing to ask taxpayers or homeowners around the airport to accept.

The county has spent about $100,000 from the airport's budget to evaluate both proposals, according to Triplett.

Seattle-based Alaska Air Group, which was only interested in moving to compete with Southwest, also praised Sims' decision.

Opening up Boeing Field to commercial airline service would have had "considerable negative community, environmental and fiscal consequences," Alaska Chairman and CEO Bill Ayer said in a statement.

"We look forward to working with other airlines and the Port of Seattle to ensure Sea-Tac continues to best serve the needs of the community in the most cost-effective manner," he said.

Port of Seattle officials said they would continue to work with airlines serving Sea-Tac, which have been unhappy over rising costs from a $4.1 billion expansion and renovation project that comes at a time when many are in desperate financial straits.

The port had previously threatened to delay projects -- including roadwork necessary to accommodate light rail -- if Southwest pulled its business. But they said Sims' announcement removed those clouds of uncertainty.

"We didn't slow down, we haven't wavered, and we're looking forward to light rail at Sea-Tac," said port Chief Executive Mic Dinsmore.

But port critics who fought the third runway said they were disappointed that Sims didn't continue to push for more competition. They've argued that giving Sea-Tac a virtual monopoly on commercial airline service allows it to spend extravagantly.

Brett Fish, president of the Committee Against Sea-Tac Expansion, said Alaska's proposal was clearly aimed at derailing any Boeing Field expansion, which could have benefited air travelers.

"It's as ugly as it gets, and we're pretty upset about it. This decision by King County gives the port a mandate to spend billions more taxpayer dollars," he said.

Sims said that merely entertaining the Southwest proposal forced the port to comb through its budget and whittle down projected airline fees at Sea-Tac.

"Even the whiff of competition resulted in a move to lower costs at the airport. Competition is good," he said.


June 14 -- King County Executive Ron Sims announces negotiations with Southwest Airlines over possible move from Sea-Tac International to Boeing Field.

July 12 -- Port of Seattle counters Southwest's objection to rising fees at Sea-Tac by issuing lower cost projections.

July 21 -- Southwest issues $130 million Boeing Field proposal, including parking garage and terminal.

July 26 -- Port threatens to put airport projects on hold, including roadwork to accommodate light rail, if Southwest leaves.

Aug. 4 -- Washington's congressional delegation comes out against Boeing Field expansion. Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce also opposed.

Aug. 23 -- Coalition of business groups and neighborhoods under flight paths forms Sound Air Alliance to fight Southwest plan.

Sept. 30 -- Alaska Airlines submits $150 million plan to build Boeing Field terminal and parking garage, but only to match possible Southwest move.

Tuesday -- Sims kills Southwest proposal.

Read King County Executive Ron Sims' statement:


Jun 13, 2005
USAir757 said:
Excellent news. Boeing Field is just fine the way it is, and I'm sure the residents are just as happy as I am about this.
ALL the airlines and passengers at SeaTac owe Southwest Airlines a big "thank you!" By tossing this shot across the bow, the projected per-passenger fee assessed by the Port of Seattle has already dropped. Just how much fluff was in their "improvements" package anyway?

[edited to remove cost numbers for which the link to the source no longer works!]


Aug 19, 2002
Hey, how about Tacoma Industrial Airport (assuming it still exists). West Coast served it, and Air West continued, albeit briefly (until about 69-70), after the three-way merger.
Screw those g-d coffee-guzzlin', flannel-wearin' Seattle NIMBYs...