Community Club slams proposed Southwest Airline's move

Describing it as "absurd," the Magnolia Community Club has joined a growing chorus of individuals, neighborhood groups and politicians who have proven highly critical of the proposal to move Southwest Airlines operations from Sea-Tac International Airport to Boeing Field.

"We're very concerned this could happen," MCC president Vic Barry said. Just how concerned is laid out in a nine-page letter the organization fired off on Aug. 1 to King County Executive Ron Sims.

Sims announced the proposal last month after months of secretive talks with the low-cost carrier, and the MCC expressed surprise at his initial support of the idea.

The MCC letter notes that Magnolia would be affected by the change. That's because existing air traffic to the King County International Airport, as Boeing Field is also known, has sparked noise complaints from the neighborhood for years.

But the MCC also points out that the shift in Southwest Airlines operations would have an impact on other neighborhoods such as Queen Anne, West Seattle, Georgetown, Tukwila, Mt. Baker, Southcenter, Kent and parts of Renton and Auburn. "We care about the entire city, not just Magnolia," Barry said of the region-wide approach in the letter.

However, the letter also addresses specific concerns, alleging that existing, heavy-aircraft operations at Boeing Field have expanded beyond their original scope despite assurances from King County officials that they wouldn't.

Southwest Airlines is proposing to add 90 flights a day at Boeing Field, according to the letter, which adds that Alaska Airlines wants to follow suit with 100 of its own if Southwest is successful in its move.

"Even with the most conservative interpretation of the numbers, this traffic level alone would exceed the noise and environmental impact of all existing Boeing Field traffic by at least two orders of magnitude," the letter states.

While Sea-Tac is on a plateau, Boeing Field is in a valley, which tends to trap air pollution, Barry said. "There's going to be a lot of pollution."

The MCC also alleges that Southwest Airlines' proposed move is an effort to circumvent regional planning for airport capacity, "planning that would be for the overall benefit of Northwest residents and visitors, not just for the benefit of a single, cost-conscious airline seeking an obvious competitive advantage."

The letter notes that Southwest Airlines has sweetened the proposed deal by offering to pay for a new, $130 million terminal for its flights, and that the airline has touted the move as a way to create additional jobs.

The MCC pooh-poohs both assertions. "(G)iven that operations moved to Boeing Field simply displaces operations from Sea-Tac, there would be no new airline jobs created in this proposal," the letter states.

The MCC concedes that modifying the airport and surrounding infrastructure would create some jobs. "However," the letter goes on to say, "these jobs would be temporary: construction and associated jobs."

As for the new terminal, it would be reserved for the exclusive use of Southwest Airlines for 50 years, at which time the building would be turned over to airport ownership, according to the letter.

"What use, or value, is a 50-year-old, outdated and well-used terminal building?" the MCC wonders. Besides, the letter adds, a new terminal "is but the tip of a very expensive iceberg."

Also needed would be county-funded improvements to infrastructure and roads "well ahead of any airport fees and taxes that would be collected from future operations," the letter states. "This implies additional taxes, bonds and/or levies imposed upon the area residents."

Moreover, according to the letter, assuming that both Southwest and Alaska are successful in moving to Boeing Field, their flights would generate between 19,000 and 36,000 passengers a day, passengers who would need to get to and leave the airport. Add airline personnel to the mix, and the existing road and traffic system are clearly inadequate, the letter adds.

The MCC letter also expresses concerns that there are no baggage or freight handling facilities of any significance, that there are no catering facilities in place, and that security would need to be improved with a substantial Transportation Security Administration presence.

Also troublesome to the MCC is a lack of car-rental facilities at Boeing Field, the lack of room for the needed parking lots for car rentals and the absence of a way to transfer passengers to and from Sea-Tac and Boeing Field for connecting flights.

Furthermore, the letter states, already-high costs for doing business at Boeing Field would only get higher "as existing facilities are torn down and converted into passenger facilities."

The letter also notes the main runway at the airport didn't fare well in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, and that existing businesses were able to minimize the impact.

"However, had there been an airline operating out of Boeing Field," the letter states, "not only would it have been severely impacted, but the airport would have lost substantial revenues from its reduced operations while still incurring all its disaster-recovery costs."

Operating a passenger airline at the airport is simply unfeasible without King County assuming or sharing the financial risks of a future earthquake, according to the MCC, which notes that would be a hard sell for county taxpayers.

The MCC in its letter "strongly recommends that this proposal be flatly rejected and excluded from any further considerations."

Barry goes even further. "It just seems like it's an answer to a question that hasn't been asked," he said of the proposal. "Ron Sims really needs to get the message that this is a real bad idea."

No one from Sims' office responded to a request for comment about the MCC letter, but the county executive's support of the proposal to move Southwest Airlines has broader implications, according to Barry.

"Well, I'm hoping Ron Sims sees the political writing on the wall and realizes this can cost him the election," Barry said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]