Alaska Air Group came out swinging yesterday against a possible move by low-fare giant Southwest Airlines from Seattle-Tacoma International...
Alaska Air Group came out swinging yesterday against a possible move by low-fare giant Southwest Airlines from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Boeing Field. But if its rival moves to the lower-cost airfield, Alaska said, it may shift some of its own flights as well.
“We don’t want to move to Boeing Field,” said Joe Sprague, head of government and public affairs for Alaska. But if Southwest relocates, King County “needs to look at it not from the standpoint of 30 or 40 additional flights, but more than double or triple that,” he said.
Discussions between Southwest and King County about a switch to the county-run airport became public last week. Boeing Field is used mainly by small planes and cargo carriers.
Alaska Airlines and its sibling Horizon Air, the two largest carriers at Sea-Tac, would bear the financial brunt of any move by Southwest, the fourth-largest. The Seattle-based company estimates it would have to pay an additional $11 million a year to operate at Sea-Tac.
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Airlines using Sea-Tac face escalating fees to pay for the airport’s capital projects. Sprague said, “If a major carrier were at this point to vacate Sea-Tac, the remaining carriers would be left with a much higher burden.”
Alaska was unable to say yesterday how much it now pays to operate at Sea-Tac.
The Port of Seattle, which operates Sea-Tac, also escalated its rhetoric about the possible move, comparing the impact to the air-traffic decline that followed the Sept. 11 attacks.
“The 9/11 effect was a 5.9 percent passenger loss, compared to the potential loss of Southwest passengers at a minimum of 7.8 percent,” the Port said in an e-mail yesterday to some local businesses.
The Port said a relocation by Southwest would lead to the loss of more than 1,000 jobs at Sea-Tac and nearby hotels, rental-car companies and other businesses.
Other harmful consequences, said the Port, include a possible rise in air fares, increased traffic and noise problems around Boeing Field, and the potential loss of nearly $3 million in tax revenues to local governments around Sea-Tac.
Kurt Triplett, chief of staff to King County Executive Ron Sims, fired back that “the argument that taking 2 million passengers out is going to ruin them financially seems difficult to believe on its face.”
Sea-Tac had an increase of 2 million passengers just last year, said Triplett. Port figures show 28.8 million passengers went through the airport in 2004.
The county is working with Southwest to determine whether a move to Boeing Field makes sense for the smaller field south of downtown Seattle.
“The soonest a Southwest plane could land at Boeing Field is 2009 or 2010, so you can’t tell me the Port can’t figure out how to make this work financially,” Triplett said.
He also said that keeping Southwest in the area is important for the entire region. “If they approached us, they’re not happy where they are, so that could be a warning to all of us,” he said.
“No one can compel Southwest to stay at Sea-Tac Airport,” Triplett said.
Alaska said it was too early to speculate about whether an increase in its costs at Sea-Tac would lead to fare increases for passengers.
Southwest is considering the move to save money, which would give it a competitive advantage over remaining airlines at Sea-Tac.
At Boeing Field, it also would be closer to downtown Seattle, another advantage that might spur Alaska and other competitors to follow, Sprague said.
Triplett said the county is willing to talk to other airlines about locating at Boeing Field. But there is not enough space there to compete with Sea-Tac, he said, “and we don’t want to.”
He said he wasn’t sure how many additional flights Boeing Field could handle, adding, “We could accommodate some Horizon or Alaska flights even if the Southwest deal happened.”
Horizon has talked about moving flights to Boeing Field in the past, he said.
Asked whether the proposed move to Boeing Field is a negotiating ploy being used by Southwest to lower its costs at Sea-Tac, Triplett said, “It’s possible. If this conversation helps Southwest there, that’s fine, that’s a chance we have to take.”
Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org