On the ramp at the passenger terminal at Paine Field on Aug. 1, from left: Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett; Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin; and Brett Smith, Propeller Airports CEO. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

On the ramp at the passenger terminal at Paine Field on Aug. 1, from left: Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett; Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin; and Brett Smith, Propeller Airports CEO. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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Paine Field gets $5M grant to remedy a CARES Act oversight

Shortchanged earlier, the Snohomish County airport is the recipient of a new federal grant.

EVERETT —Paine Field airport will receive a $5 million federal improvement grant this fall. It’s part of a limited distribution that corrects an oversight that shortchanged the Snohomish County-owned airport out of millions of dollars of pandemic relief last spring.

The grant will be used to replace a worn taxiway that connects the airport’s main runway to the general aviation runway, airport officials said Monday.

In April, Paine Field received $157,000 in government aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a stimulus program that included $10 billion for airports.

The funding formula was based, in part, on how many passengers an airport served in 2018. Because airline service didn’t begin at Paine Field until March 2019, the airport received far less than similar-sized airports across the state. Bellingham International Airport, for example, received $5 million.

In the aftermath, Washington Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene were among those that lobbied the Federal Aviation Administration for additional airport funding.

In a statement Monday, Cantwell said the new grant would help keep the airport “financially sound.”

“When the formula in the last COVID relief bill left out assistance to Paine Field and put the airport in a significant cash crunch, we worked with the Federal Aviation Administration on a solution,” Cantwell said. “Paine Field is too important to the region, to the state, and to our aviation workforce to not keep it fully operational. As Congress considers another COVID relief bill and additional support for aviation and airports, this funding will help the airport stay on a strong footing.”

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers was also among those who lobbied for a remedy. Paine Field accounts for $60 billion in economic impact and supports 159,000 jobs, noted Somers.

“Our congressional delegation worked with the FAA to find some dollars that were available and unused,” Somers said. “What we didn’t get through the CARES Act, we get through this direct grant.”

“Paine Field is suffering like other airports, ” Somers said. The funds, he said, “will help us recover more quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic and save jobs.”

Rep. Larsen said that the airport and the commercial air service it provides are a “vital part of the regional economy” that supports jobs throughout northwest Washington.

The supplemental grant helps ensure that airport operations will continue, said Larsen, Chair of the House Aviation Subcommittee.

The grant comes from the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, which funds safety and security projects, including improvements to runways, taxiways and lighting.

The funds can only be used for airport infrastructure. They cannot be used to provide support to airport tenants, including the privately owned passenger terminal, Somers said.

In an interview Monday, Paine Field Airport Director Arif Ghouse said the entire amount is earmarked for a project to replace a 20-year-old taxiway that connects the main runway to the smaller, parallel general aviation runway.

Details and a timeline for the project are still being worked out, he said.

“We’re very grateful to the two senators and Rick Larsen for this. We wouldn’t have gotten this without them,” Ghouse said.

Paine Field expected to receive about $3 or $4 per passenger in emergency aid last spring, or $3 million to $4 million dollars in CARES Act funds — based on the more than 1 million passengers that passed through the two-gate terminal during its first 12 months.

However, the airport was registered as a general aviation airport — one without scheduled passenger service — when federal regulators devised an emergency funding formula.

Paine Field was among a handful of airports that were shortchanged by the original federal stimulus program, Somers said.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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