FAA Delay on Paine Field Decision

The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to reach a decision on whether to allow scheduled passenger service at Paine Field – a decision the administration had said would be finalized by now.

 

FAA officials need more time than they expected to respond to hundreds of comments received last year and then to re-write a study of the environmental impacts of commercial flights at the airport accordingly, said FAA spokesperson Mike Fergus.

 

“Due to the volume and substance of those comments, we are taking additional time to fully respond,” Fergus said. “Our staff… are being very meticulous and thorough in review and their efforts.”

 

With its February estimate for a decision four months overdue, the FAA is now forecasting that a final Environmental Assessment will be done by the end of 2011, possibly sooner, Fergus said.

 

The delay has made critics of the FAA’s study of the environmental impacts of passenger service by Horizon Air and Allegiant Air at the airport anxious. They fear the administration will conclude that the flights are of no significant impact.

 

Citizens’ Right to Fly From Paine Field, a group in support of commercial passenger service, did not return requests for comment by press time.

 

Mike Moore of Save Our Communities, a group that opposes the flights at Paine Field, said SOC suspects the FAA is focused on maintaining the draft EA’s conclusion to allow the flights.

 

“Our view is that they’re going to add some amount of flights scope of activity, but they’ll continue to stick to the original determination of the draft Environmental Assessment,” Moore said.

 

SOC sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency in February requesting that the EPA review the FAA’s environmental review process, as it has for other agencies in the past.

 

In a letter back, the EPA said it would not review the EA because it was going to be “substantially re-written” with an expansion of the scope to include more flights than examined in the draft EA, Moore said.

 

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, an EA examines the impact the flights would impose in the area surrounding the airport, including impacts on noise, air quality and traffic.

 

Originally, the FAA oversaw a consultant’s draft EA that addressed the potential impact of six flights per day by Horizon and 10 per week by Allegiant in five years.

 

The FAA received more than 900 comments on the draft Environmental Assessment in writing and at public hearings last year.

 

Critics of the draft EA said it considered only the flight projections of the two airlines and that it failed to address the possibility of additional flights in the future.

 

In response, the FAA is reviewing the impact of twice as many flights per day, or about 12.

 

The FAA continues to finish writing the scope of additional work with Barnard Dunkelberg of Tulsa, Okla., the consultant hired to write the draft EA.

 

SOC members said the new scope of the EA is an improvement, but that they should be reviewing the impacts of far more than 12 flights a day.

 

Moore said they suspect the FAA is limiting the scope of the EA so it won’t need to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, which would require deeper analysis of the environmental impacts of commercial flights.

 

Fergus said, however, that the FAA’s environmental review process is “taken very seriously” by staff, regardless of whether and EA or EIS is used, and that “the process is being followed diligently and very thoroughly.”

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