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April 20, 2021 11:00 AM, EDT

FedEx Close to a Deal to Lease Site North of Seattle

FedExFedEx Express cargo aircraft at the company's main hub in Memphis, Tenn. (FedEx Corp.)

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Boeing is close to finalizing a deal to transfer the lease of its Dreamlifter Operations Center at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., to air cargo carrier FedEx Corp., according to a document reviewed by the Seattle Times that outlines terms of the discussion.

The pending transfer effectively quashes any residual hope that 787 Dreamliner production — now done exclusively in North Charleston, S.C. — might one day restart in Everett.

It also heralds a busier flight schedule out of Paine Field as FedEx cargo flights join the new commercial passenger flights by Alaska and United, as well as Boeing’s delivery and test flights of newly built jets.

The Paine Field transfer is one consequence of Boeing’s decision last October to cease assembly of the 787 in Everett. As a result, since February, the giant, custom-built Dreamlifter cargo planes no longer ferry big sections of the 787 from Boeing’s major partners around the globe to the main Everett factory.

The purpose-built Dreamlifter Operations Center on the west side of the main runway at Paine Field is where Boeing unloaded all the sections for assembly: the 787 wings from Japan, the aft and center fuselage sections from North Charleston, the forward fuselage from Wichita, Kan., and the horizontal tail from Italy.

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Boeing had already moved oversight of Dreamlifter operations and maintenance to South Carolina three years ago.

Neither Boeing nor FedEx would comment on the imminent deal.

“FedEx continuously evaluates opportunities that can enhance our ability to serve our customers,” a spokesperson for the cargo company said via email. “We do not comment on specifics of projects until all aspects have been finalized.”

Boeing simply reiterated last fall’s statement by corporate CFO Greg Smith that the company is “reviewing every piece of real estate, every building, every lease, every warehouse, every site,” with a goal of shrinking the company’s total real estate by 30%.

Boeing leases the Dreamlifter Operations Center building from the airport, which is owned by Snohomish County.

Snohomish County spokesman Kent Patton said the airport authorities are not involved in negotiations over the Boeing lease. “Paine Field has not been presented with an alternative lease,” Patton wrote in an email.

The lease negotiations document indicates the transfer is expected to be complete this summer, though FedEx has told Boeing it will take time after the lease is transferred to get its cargo flights up and running.

To sweeten the deal, even though FedEx should have taken over the lease by Nov. 1, Boeing has agreed to make a $1.8 million bond payment due on that date as part of the annual rent.

In addition to abandoning the Dreamlifter center, Boeing has already transferred to South Carolina all the tooling for making the smallest Dreamliner model, the 787-8.

A Boeing spokesperson said April 19 this was done following the end of local 787 final assembly work in February.

Until then, the North Charleston assembly plant had built only the larger 787-9s and 787-10s.

Despite the convenience of Paine Field flights for travelers living north of Seattle, the start of passenger service there in 2018 drew some opposition over the additional jet noise. But efforts by some residents of Edmonds and Mukilteo to stop the passenger flights failed in court.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said the agency has not been asked to get involved in any transfer of Boeing’s lease and added that FedEx doesn’t need FAA approval to operate out of Paine Field.

FedEx currently flies its regional air operations out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

FedEx Corp. ranks No. 2 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

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