An Alaska Airlines Embraer 175. The carrier plans to use this model on routes to and from Paine Field in Everett. (Alaska Airlines)

An Alaska Airlines Embraer 175. The carrier plans to use this model on routes to and from Paine Field in Everett. (Alaska Airlines)

Federal shutdown could delay Paine Field passenger flights

The FAA says furloughs at the agency might postpone the final decision on Everett airline service.

EVERETT — Final federal approval of commercial passenger service at Paine Field, which was expected to begin Feb. 11, could be delayed by the ongoing government shutdown, an official said Tuesday.

Gregory Martin, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Washington, D.C., told The Daily Herald that “the partial shutdown could potentially delay” the agency’s approval or disapproval, which will be based on a revised environmental assessment. “Beyond that, I cannot speculate (about) its potential release as the shutdown continues.”

The outcome is widely expected to be approval, and airlines have been booking flights to and from Paine Field for weeks. Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are offering a combined 24 daily departures from Everett, with Alaska planning to launch service beginning Feb. 11 and United starting March 31.

But on Tuesday, Alaska conceded there could be a snag if the shutdown drags on.

“The FAA is continuing its work on the Paine Field environmental assessment and other required approvals, and so far we don’t believe the partial government shutdown has impacted the process,” Alaska spokesman Ray Lane said in an email. “However, if the shutdown lasts much longer, there may be an impact. We continue to work with FAA on this and are closely monitoring developments on the shutdown.”

Although the air traffic control system has been functioning as usual, a spokeswoman for an airline trade association said the effects of furloughs at the Federal Aviation Administration are widespread.

“Some carriers are beginning to see the effects of the government shutdown — specifically regarding certification of new aircraft and the implementation of new training programs for pilots, as well as training for air traffic controllers and other aviation employees,” said Alison McAfee of Airlines for America. “We urge elected leaders to reach an agreement and reopen the federal government quickly.”

Arif Ghouse, director of Snohomish County-owned Paine Field, said “any delay would be disappointing.”

“We look forward to the start of commercial service at Paine Field and the many benefits it will bring to the region,” Ghouse said.

Brett Smith, president and CEO of Everett-based Propeller Airports, which built and will manage the new Everett terminal, said he expects it will open on time.

Propeller is nearing completion of the two-gate terminal on the east side of the airport, near the control tower. It has a lease agreement with the county.

Last fall, the FAA issued a draft supplemental environmental assessment that weighed the effect of up to 24 flights per day at Paine Field. An expired 2012 assessment reached a similar conclusion, but it gauged the impact of fewer airlines and only 12 flights a day. The new assessment underwent a 30-day public comment period ending Nov. 2 and found no significant issues, but the FAA still must issue a written decision ratifying the report’s findings or requiring more scrutiny.

The FAA employs about 43,000 people, and more than 17,000 have been furloughed.

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

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