Allegiant Air switches first NH flight from Portsmouth to Manchester
MANCHESTER — Allegiant Air announced Tuesday it was forced to move its inaugural flight to New Hampshire on Friday from Portsmouth to Manchester because federal security screening equipment wasn't in place.
But a federal aviation spokesman said Allegiant may not be able to touch down in Portsmouth until around Nov. 10.
The airline and airport blamed the federal shutdown for the delay, but the Transportation Security Administration said a minimum 120-day review process of deciding whether "to federalize" Portsmouth International Airport at Pease doesn't end until Nov. 1, which was dated before the government shutdown.
"I'm told it would take about 10 days to get the security screening equipment in to ensure the proper screening of passengers and bags," TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said in an e-mail.
Bill Hopper, Portsmouth's airport manager, said TSA, the airline and airport were working toward Friday's date for the inaugural flight.
"Huge disappointment. Huge disappointment," Hopper said.
The delay prompted Allegiant to shift its first two Pease flights to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
Hopper is hopeful the next Allegiant flight to New Hampshire, scheduled for Nov. 1, will land in Portsmouth. The airline operates two round trips a week, on Fridays and Mondays, he said.
Allegiant, which didn't return a phone message Tuesday, has begun contacting passengers with reservations on the affected flights. It also asked passengers booked in and out of Portsmouth in the next 10 days "to closely monitor flight status alerts and emails from the company," its website said.
Hopper said the airport had planned "a bit of an event" Friday with water streaming from fire hoses to welcome the first flight and mementos given to passengers on the first flight. It was going to be the first scheduled commercial flight at the airport since April 4, 2008.
At the moment, two round trips between Portsmouth and the Orlando-Sanford International Airport are affected on Friday and Oct. 28. But Hopper said he must await word from the TSA, which had some workers furloughed during the government shutdown.
"We don't have any guarantees from TSA when the screening would be operational," he said. "Everybody's working very hard to get this done."
The screening equipment is on order but hasn't arrived.
The first flight, Flight 672, will land at Manchester at 2:45 p.m. Friday. That plane will depart Manchester at 6:45 p.m., the same time it was scheduled to leave Portsmouth, according to Allegiant's website.
Hopper said Allegiant is "working on accommodations" of getting passengers from the Portsmouth airport, which provides free parking, to Manchester's airport, which does not.
A statement from Allegiant said "the furlough of nonessential personnel at TSA stalled the installation of equipment necessary for passenger screening" at the Portsmouth airport.
Since the Oct. 17 return of federal workers, Allegiant, the airport and TSA "have worked round-the-clock in an attempt to ready the airport for commercial service at Pease by the original start date."