Plummeting passenger traffic and flight cancellations will cost Seattle-Tacoma International Airport roughly $251 million by the end of 2020, airport director Lance Lyttle said in a briefing Thursday, representing a 37% blow to the airport’s anticipated revenue for the year.
The anticipated hit to revenues is well over the $192 million in federal funds authorized for the airport’s use by the CARES Act stimulus package.
“It is good to have $192 million but it does not make us whole,” Lyttle said.
Sea-Tac will draw on the federal funds to service debt, cover payroll and meet operating expenses like maintenance and security, he said.
Most of the drop in revenue comes from losses in rents and fees paid by retail and dining tenants, parking and rental car operators and ground transportation companies that coincide with declining travel.
As efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic intensified through the spring, passenger traffic at Sea-Tac plummeted. Preliminary figures for April show a 95% drop in passenger traffic compared to last year, Lyttle said.
Airlines canceled nearly 680 international flights in April, double what they canceled in March. Amid the pandemic, just one international flight departs from Sea-Tac some days of the week.
Airport dining and retail have suffered heavy losses. Nearly 1,600 of Sea-Tac’s 2,100 dining and retail employees have been laid off or furloughed, Lyttle said. Two weeks ago, the Port deferred rent for airport dining and retail tenantsaffected by the pandemic, hoping to spur employers to continue providing health coverage to out-of-work staff.
But all of the airport’s 19,000 workers — from air traffic employees and pilots, to flight kitchen workers and wheelchair escorts — have been affected by an emptier Sea-Tac, said Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman during the briefing.
“Financial stability for individuals is really what we’re concerned about now,” Bowman said. “The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on those who were already furthest from middle class.”
The Port has partnered with nonprofits Fair Work Center and Port Jobs to connect laid-off workers and Port employers to resources and new hiring opportunities.
Outside the airport, there is robust hiring in the grocery and warehouse sectors, said Heather Worthley, executive director of Port Jobs. Cargo traffic at Sea-Tac was up nearly 1% in March, year-over-year, as Washingtonians stuck indoors ordered more from online retailers.
“I never imagined that we would be in this position. We’ve been so accustomed to robust growth at Sea Tac,” Bowman said, adding that her younger sister, a Delta Air Lines flight attendant, has been out of work for eight weeks.
“It hits me at home, too,” she said.