The Shutdown Might Delay the Launch of Passenger Flights From Paine Field

Jan 9, 2019

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The opening of a new airport in the US isn’t something that happens often. Attention has been high around Paine Field – Snohomish County Airport (PAE) in Everett, Washington, which is scheduled to operate passenger flights starting in early February. But the ongoing partial US government shutdown due to a standoff between President Donald Trump and Congress over funding a border wall could throw a serious wrench into PAE’s schedule.

PAE isn’t literally new — it’s existed for decades, as the place where Boeing builds most of its aircraft, except 737s and some 787s. But only now is it adding commercial flights, with the construction of a passenger terminal. In order to open to passenger planes, the airport needs the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval on a revised environmental assessment. Those types of approvals and certifications, deemed “nonessential,” are not taking place during the shutdown while many federal employees are furloughed.

“At this time, the partial shutdown could potentially delay the environmental decision,” an FAA spokesperson told TPG in an email Wednesday. “Beyond that, I cannot speculate.”

Photo by Patrick Fallon/TPG.

Although many industry voices say approval of the assessment is largely a formality that is sure to happen, the airport can’t operate the flights without it. Hundreds of passengers are already booked to fly through PAE, as tickets for flights through the airport have been on sale for weeks. Alaska Airlines is set to operate the first commercial passenger flight out of Paine Field on Feb. 11, and United follows, with its PAE service launching on March 31.

Alaska is saying that so far the approvals process hasn’t been affected, but if the shutdown holds out, those flights could be affected. “If the shutdown lasts much longer, there may be an impact,” Alaska spokesman Ray Lane told The Herald in Everett. “We continue to work with FAA on this and are closely monitoring developments on the shutdown.”

TPG reached out to Alaska for more information but did not receive a response by time of publication.

Paine Field, which is used by airlines for aircraft deliveries and maintenance, is a point of aviation fascination, but it also has been redesigned with a sleek and stylish terminal and a mission to “bring civility back” to flying.

Photo of PAE’s passenger terminal by Patrick Fallon/TPG.

“We look forward to the start of commercial service at Paine Field and the many benefits it will bring to the region,” Arif Ghouse, director of Snohomish County’s Paine Field Airport, said in an emailed statement. “Any delay would be disappointing.”

Featured image by Paine Field.

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