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Alaska delays Paine Field launch due to government shutdown

Alaska Airlines is the first carrier to officially postpone a new service due to the on-going partial US federal government shutdown now in its 32nd day.

The Seattle-based carrier will delay the launch of service to Paine Field in Everett, Washington, to 4 March from 11 February as Federal Aviation Administration officials needed for the start of commercial air service to the airport are furloughed, Alaska says in a statement.

"It’s a tough decision, but we believe the responsible action is to postpone the start of service at Paine Field," says the airline.

Alaska selected the 4 March date even though there is no imminent end to the shutdown. "It’s a judgment call on our part… 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."

The implications of the government shutdown for US carriers is growing. Delta Air Lines has warned that it could delay the introduction of its new Airbus A220 scheduled to enter service on 31 January, while American Airlines and United Airlines have been unable to induct some new aircraft that need FAA sign off, and Southwest Airlines has said needed certifications for new flights to Hawaii are on hold until the regulator re-opens.

However, neither American, Delta, Southwest nor United have officially postponed any new services due to the shutdown.

Part of the US government shut down on 22 December, with non-essential employees including those from the FAA furloughed and barred from doing any work. At 32 days and counting, it is the longest such closure in history.

The most visible impact of the shutdown for air travellers to date have been the increasing no-show rate for Transportation Security Administration staff, which hit 10% - or three times the normal number - on 20 January. Airport security agents are required to work without pay during the shutdown.

Alaska will offer 18 daily flights to eight cities from Paine Field with 76-seat Embraer 175s when service begins. Destinations include Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland (Oregon), Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose (California).

Andrew Harrison, chief commercial officer of Alaska, said in December the new service from Paine Field, which is a 57km (35.7 miles) drive north of the airline's Seattle Tacoma International base, represents a 6% increase in departures for it "without the congestion" of booming Seattle Tacoma airport.

Flights will be operated from a new two-gate passenger terminal built by a private concessionaire at Paine Field, which is also home to the final assembly lines for some of Boeing's widebody aircraft.

United plans to offer six daily flights to Paine Field from Denver and San Francisco from 31 March.

The Chicago-based carrier was not immediately available for comment on whether the shutdown will impact its planned service to the airport.

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