Sea-Tac passenger traffic up 12.4 percent in November

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s initial estimates show the airport handled more than 37 million passengers last year, a figure that is expected to move the airport up the ranks of the nation’s busiest airports.

The airport says the plethora of new flights from rivals Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines were largely responsible for the greater-than-expected increase.

While all 2014 figures haven’t been totaled, the airport says it expects those final figures will be some 2.2 million greater than the 34.8 million passengers Sea-Tac processed in 2013. Through November, the airport’s passenger growth is up 7.4 percent for the year. November’s totals were 12.8 percent greater than those in November a year earlier, said Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper.

Based on last year’s passenger total, Sea-Tac was the nation’s 15th busiest airport. It could move past both Orlando International Airport and Newark Liberty Airport in 2014 if those airports’ year end increases were smaller than Sea-Tac’s. Through November, Orlando’s passenger figures were up 2.44 percent. Newark doesn’t publish monthly traffic figures.

Sea-Tac already handles more passengers than hubs such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington airports.

Sea-Tac spokesman Cooper said the airport is planning to spend $1.7 billion over the next six years to accommodate the larger passenger flow. Sea-Tac’s four largest projects include a new international arrivals facility to handle overseas flights, an updated and expanded North Satellite Terminal to serve as Alaska Airlines’ main base of operations at Sea-Tac, a rebuilt center runway and a new airport-wide baggage sorting and security system.

Delta has made Sea-Tac its West Coast hub for international flights adding nonstops from Sea-Tac to Hong Kong, Tokyo Haneda, Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai. In Europe, Delta now connects Sea-Tac with London, Amsterdam and Paris. That gaggle of new foreign flights as well as overseas nonstops by other carriers can overwhelm Sea-Tac’s existing arrivals facility. The Port of Seattle, which owns Sea-Tac, plans to create an expanded international arrivals facility linked to the South Satellite Terminal near the A Concourse. That facility is expected to open in 2019.

Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines and the port plan a major overhaul of the North Satellite Terminal, which will add eight gates to that facility. It is scheduled to open in 2020. Alaska has added several new nonstop destinations in the past two years including New Orleans, Omaha, Baltimore, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cancun, Steamboat Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Washington Dulles.

The center runway at Sea-Tac is scheduled to close for rebuilding this spring. It is the only one of the airport’s three runways not rebuilt or built anew in the last six years. The runway will reopen in October.

The final project is the baggage system overhaul. That update will concentrate all baggage screening in a single facility under the Central Terminal. Presently the airport has six separate checked bag screening systems. That new system is expected to go into service in 2018.

Based on a modest 2-plus percentage annual passenger increase, Sea-Tac’s traffic is expected to hit 52 million by 2024 and 60 million by 2034.