Commitments made to the surrounding communities that Sea-Tac won’t grow beyond its current three-runway configuration must be honored.

Share story

IN the 21st century, world-class cities need world-class airports.

For Seattle to make the most of its thriving economy, its attractiveness as a convention and tourism destination, its geographic advantage for international trade, and just to handle the needs of its growing population, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport must compare favorably to the world’s best airports.

Sea-Tac is already a significant economic driver for the Puget Sound region and the entire state, generating 170,000 jobs and more than $16.3 billion in economic activity. That impact should grow even more as passenger volumes are projected to climb from today’s 42 million to 66 million by 2034. With total flights into and out of the airport expected to increase to 540,000 annually from today’s 350,000, Sea-Tac will need approximately 35 additional gates, a 40 percent increase from the 88 at the airport today.

We need properly designed facilities and connections to meet domestic and international travel demands and harness the opportunities this type of growth presents.

Some parts of Sea-Tac are world-class now. The grand retail gallery is outstanding and renovated areas like concourse A are excellent. Upgrades are already planned for other areas, like the North satellite. But other airport facilities fall short of meeting the needs and expectations of today’s travelers.

This challenge will be addressed by Port of Seattle commissioners and staff developing a new Sustainable Airport Master Plan to accommodate the growth projected over the next 20 years. The master planning and related environmental review process will continue through 2017.

Meanwhile, we need the broader community to engage with the Port consistently and strategically as they work to enhance the airport, which is why we have created the Tomorrow @ Sea-Tac Coalition. The coalition, housed within the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, is a diverse group of business, labor and environmental leaders committed to ensuring that Sea-Tac is world-class. It already has 75 members and is growing.

The chamber has a long history of productive engagement in the development of Sea-Tac as a driver of economic development for the region and state, and this effort supports its commitment to enhance the economy and the global competitiveness of the region.

We will focus not just on aesthetics, but on all the questions that come with Sea-Tac’s rapid growth. We want to identify the criteria that define what we believe a world-class Sea-Tac airport means. At the top of that list is to continue improving the passenger experience at the airport.

Passengers consistently identify the attributes they consider important: concourses and waiting areas — renovated or newly built — that are light, spacious and comfortable. High quality concessions and diverse retail choices that celebrate Washington’s bounty. Given the region’s global technology leadership, airport facilities should support today’s devices and anticipate how emerging technologies could change passenger requirements and airline processes.

As Sea-Tac grows, it’s also important to reduce overly long walks from security to any given gate. That could mean reworking the existing subway system or installing moving walkways in the concourses, or both, but passengers must be able to get around the airport quickly and comfortably. Beyond the airport itself, it’s important to size surface roadways, multimodal transportation options, and parking facilities to match passenger volumes and terminal capacity.

Faster passenger movement must be coupled with faster baggage handling so that Sea-Tac’s minimum connection times are competitive with San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major West Coast airports.

Commitments made to the surrounding communities that Sea-Tac won’t grow beyond its current three-runway configuration must be honored. As airport traffic grows, creativity will be needed to reduce the time planes spend traveling between runways and gates.

The investments will be significant, but local taxpayers will be heartened by the Port’s track record at Sea-Tac and the fact that the airport is not supported with property taxes, but is self-sustaining with funds generated through airline gate fees, passenger facility charges, cargo fees, parking revenues and rental income from terminal vendors. The capital improvement financing plan will have to operate within these sources.

Finally, while we must keep our eyes open to identify and learn from best practices at other airports in the US and around the world, Sea-Tac should never come off as “any airport anywhere.” Instead, it should retain and enhance unique attributes that celebrate the heritage, values and assets of our region. We need more than a world-class airport — we need a world-class Seattle-Tacoma airport.