Delta Air Lines wants to almost triple its gates at the Seattle airport to expand its newest West Coast hub and jumping-off point to Asia, challenging market leader Alaska Airlines.
“We’re making good progress on our discussion to upgrade the facility and to turn Seattle into a huge international gateway for Delta,” Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson said on a recorded message to employees.
The world’s third-largest carrier is seeking 30 gates at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the long term, Anderson said on the call late last week. The airline currently has 11 gates, an airport spokesman said.
Delta has been confronting Alaska on its home turf for more than a year as they fight for market share. Atlanta-based Delta has designated Seattle as a hub from which to offer an increasing number of flights to Asia. That’s been infringing on Seattle-based Alaska, which currently controls about 40 percent of the traffic from its home airport.
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Anderson’s message suggests the carrier is pushing beyond a previously stated goal. In September, Seattle airport spokesman Perry Cooper said Delta wanted about 150 flights a day at the airport by 2017. That would require 19 or 20 gates, assuming eight flights a day from each gate, Cooper said.
Delta could potentially operate 240 flights a day if it takes on 30 gates, Cooper said. Sea-Tac determines how many gates to grant airlines each year according to formula using their number of outbound seats as of August, Cooper said.
“That’s one of the estimated opportunities there,” Cooper said by telephone. “But does that mean that somebody would use that many?”
At 30 gates, Delta’s Seattle operation would still be smaller than United Airlines’ hub in San Francisco, which often is seen as the dominant hub to Asia because of that market’s large Asian population. United operates out of 32 domestic gates at San Francisco International Airport and shares 12 international gates with its partner airlines in the Star Alliance, United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said.
Delta has been boosting its domestic flights to and from Seattle to build connecting traffic, which then could fly to Asia. President Ed Bastian told analysts in a third-quarter earnings call last month that Delta’s decision to cut seats from Cincinnati and Memphis, Tennessee, while adding seats to Seattle is producing solid results.
“Seattle’s domestic performance has significantly exceeded our expectations as unit revenues increased 6 percent on a 25 percent increase in capacity, driving margin improvements year- over-year,” Bastian said.