Sea-Tac passenger traffic booming

Sea-Tac Airport’s passenger traffic, fed by an undeclared war between its two busiest airlines, could put the airport’s total traffic this year over 42 million passengers, nearly 8 million more passengers than in 2013.

That projection is based on year-to-date growth statistics through April at the airport where passenger traffic grew 13.11 percent over 2014’s number through that same month.

Sea-Tac last year was one of the nation’s fastest-growing large airports, jumping from 15th busiest in 2013 to 13th busiest in 2014. The airport’s traffic surpassed the number at Newark’s Liberty Airport, which was in 14th place.

New statistics from the Port of Seattle, the airport’s owner, show the airport’s traffic is increasing at a rate three times what airport planners had predicted as Alaska Airlines, which has the largest share of traffic at Sea-Tac, battles with Delta Air Lines for market share.

Alaska’s Sea-Tac business was up 13.1 percent in the first four months of the year. Delta’s increase in that same period was 43.9 percent on a smaller number of passengers.

Alaska and Delta are still code-share partners, but at the same time have become big-time rivals for domestic business. Delta plans to grow its daily departures to 125 by the year’s end. Alaska and its sister airline, Horizon Air, have more than 50 percent of the airport’s traffic.

As Delta has invaded Alaska’s traditional territory with flights to Alaska and to West Coast cities, Alaska has expanded its reach to more cities on the East Coast and in America’s middle states. The airline, for instance, has added nonstop flights to New Orleans, to Tampa, to Baltimore, to Detroit, to Raleigh and to Charleston.

Delta said it is growing its domestic network from Sea-Tac to feed its growing repertoire of international routes from the airport. Delta now flies to Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo’s two airports, Narita and Haneda, in Asia from Sea-Tac. The Atlanta-based carrier now also flies nonstop from Sea-Tac to London, Amsterdam and Paris in Europe.

The airport’s international traffic was up nearly 16 percent in April.

The airport is in the midst of some $1.9 billion in improvements to handle the increased traffic, including a complete overhaul and expansion of the North Satellite Terminal for Alaska and the construction of a new International Arrivals facility to handle traffic from Delta and other international airlines such as Emirates, which recently announced it is adding a second daily nonstop flight to Dubai from Sea-Tac.

Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper attributed the growth to the region’s strong economy and robust population growth.