The new passenger terminal on the east side of Paine Field in Everett. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

The new passenger terminal on the east side of Paine Field in Everett. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Federal shutdown delays start of airline service in Everett

Key FAA officials, who must give a final OK to Paine Field passenger flights, are on furlough.

EVERETT — Alaska Airlines says it will delay the start of commercial passenger service at Paine Field by at least three weeks due to the ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government.

Alaska and United Airlines plan a combined 24 daily flights at a new passenger terminal at the airport, but they are awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval. The officials who must sign off on a final environmental assessment are on furlough.

Alaska planned to begin service on Feb. 11, but the uncertainty surrounding the federal shutdown prompted a delay until March 4. Even that date might not be a sure thing if the government shutdown continues, the carrier said Tuesday.

United Airlines, which plans a March 31 start, declined to comment.

Alaska said it would work with ticket holders to provide refunds or book travel from Sea-Tac Airport, at no additional cost.

“We know our guests who purchased tickets to and from Paine Field will be disappointed by this delay — so are we,” said Andrew Harrison, the chief commercial officer for Alaska Airlines. “There are certain things that are simply out of our control. We apologize if your travel plans need to change.”

Some 800,000 federal workers have been idled for more than a month in a face-off between President Donald Trump, who is demanding more than $5 billion to build a barrier and make other improvements along the nation’s southern border, and U.S. House Democrats, who want to negotiate that line item apart from the full government budget.

Alaska’s postponement of Everett service was “a tough decision, but we believe the responsible action,” Harrison said in a written statement. The airline said it will continue to prepare for operations at Paine Field, including hiring and training.

A new two-gate passenger terminal at Paine Field was built and will be managed by a private company, Everett-based Propeller Airports, under a lease agreement with the airport’s owner, Snohomish County.

Brett Smith, the CEO of Propeller Airports, said the delay illustrates the shutdown’s impact.

“There are real consequences to the government shutdown for the private sector, and delaying commercial service from Paine Field is one of them,” Smith said. “Like everyone else, we hope that our leaders in D.C. can resolve this situation soon. As always, Alaska Airlines is doing what’s in the best interest of their customers, and we look forward to their starting service on March 4.”

In a news release, Alaska Airlines said the choice of March 4 was “a judgment call on our part because we don’t know when the government shutdown will end. We selected a new date for start of service that could allow time for a resolution, but not too far out in case the shutdown suddenly ended. We’re hopeful our operations at Paine Field will get up and running soon and we can get our guests going places.”

If the shutdown continues, Alaska might need to push the start of service further into the future.

“We can’t start flying at Paine Field until we have all the required, final government approvals. We’re making the best business decisions we can during a difficult situation,” the airline said.

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

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