Seattleâ"Tacoma International Airport (IATA: SEA,Â ICAO: KSEA,Â FAA LID: SEA), also referred to as Seaâ"Tac Airport or Seaâ"Tac (), is the primary commercial airport serving the Seattle metropolitan area in the U.S. state of Washington. It is located in the city of SeaTac, approximately 13 miles (21Â km) south of Downtown Seattle. The airport, the largest in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, is owned and operated by the Port of Seattle.
The airport has flights to cities throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It is the main hub for Alaska Airlines and its regional subsidiary Horizon Air, whose headquarters are near the airport. It is a hub and international gateway to Asia and Europe for Delta Air Lines, which has expanded at Seaâ"Tac since 2011.
The airport is the 28th busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic, serving over 46.9 million passengers in 2017, and is considered one of the fastest growing in the United States and the world. It is categorized in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2015â"2019 as a primary commercial service (large hub) airport based on 16,121,123 enplanements in 2012. The airport is the largest generator of vehicle trips in the state, and its 13,000-car parking garage is North America's largest parking structure under one roof.
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The airport was built by the Port of Seattle in 1944 after the U.S. military took control of Boeing Field in World War II. The Port received $1 million from the Civil Aeronautics Administration to build the airport and $100,000 from the City of Tacoma. The first scheduled airline flights were Northwest and Trans-Canada in 1947; Western and United moved from Boeing Field in the next couple of years, and Pan Am moved in 1952â"53, but West Coast as well as successors Air West and Hughes Airwest stayed at Boeing Field until 1971.
In June 1951 there were four runways at 45-degree angles, between 5,000 and 6,100 feet (1,500 and 1,900Â m) long; the northeastâ"southwest and northwestâ"southeast runways intersected just west of the northâ"south runway that eventually became today's runway 34R. Runway 34 was lengthened to 7500Â ft in 1951, to 8500Â ft by 1958 and to 11900Â ft by 1962. Runway 34L replaced runway 2 around 1970.
The April 1957 OAG shows 216 departures a week on United, 80 Northwest, 35 Western, 21 Trans-Canada, 20 Pan Am, 20 Pacific Northern and 10 Alaska. The first jet flights were Pan Am 707s to Honolulu via Portland (OR) in late 1959. In 1966 Scandinavian Airlines began the airport's first non-stop route to mainland Europe (Pan Am nonstops to London began around 1961). The first concourse opened in July 1959.
The two-story North Concourse (later dubbed Concourse D) added four gate positions and a new wing 600 feet (180Â m) long and 30 feet (9.1Â m) wide. The one-story South Concourse (now Concourse A) opened in 1961, adding another 688 feet (210Â m) to the length of the airport. The 800-foot (240Â m) long Concourse B opened in December 1964. It added eight gate positions, bringing the total to 19, a 12,000 square feet (1,100Â m2) area housing international arrivals and the offices of U.S. Customs, Immigration, Public Health and the Department of Agriculture. Concourse C opened in July 1966. Just four years later, it was extended to include another 10 gates, bringing the total to 35. The Port embarked on a major expansion plan, designed by The Richardson Associates and lasting from 1967 to 1973, adding a second runway, a parking garage, two satellite terminals and other improvements. In 1973, $28-million new terminal was built over and around the 1949 structure; the new terminal quadrupled the area for public use. On July 1, 1973, the Airport opened two new satellite terminals, along with an underground train system to connect them to the Main Terminal. In the mid-1980s, the Main Terminal was renovated and another 150 feet (46Â m) was added to the north end. Concourse D was expanded in 1987 with a rotunda that added four new gates. In 1993, Concourses B, C and D were renovated. The project, designed by NBBJ, included the addition of 150,000 square feet (14,000Â m2) and the renovation of 170,000 square feet (16,000Â m2) of space in Concourses B, C and D. On June 15, 2004, the 2,102-foot (641Â m) new Concourse A was unveiled with 14 new gates, a dozen new restaurants, new artwork and the airport's first moving sidewalks.
Residents of the surrounding area filed lawsuits against the Port in the early 1970s, complaining of noise, vibration, smoke and other problems. The Port and the government of King County adopted the Seaâ"Tac Communities Plan in 1976 to address problems and guide future development. The Port spent more than $100 million over the next decade to buy homes and school buildings in the vicinity, and soundproof others nearby. In the mid-1980s, the airport participated in the airport noise-compatibility program initiated by Congress in 1979. Airport-noise contours were developed, real estate was purchased and some homes were retrofitted to achieve noise mitigation.
In 1978 the U.S. ended airline regulation, and U.S. airlines were allowed to determine routes and fares without government approval. Deregulation resulted in new service to Seattle, including from TWA, then the fourth-largest U.S. airline, as well as Delta, National, and American.
After the death of U.S. Senator Henry Martin "Scoop" Jackson in 1983, the Seattle Port Commission voted to change the name of the airport to Henry M. Jackson International Airport. Denizens of Tacoma interpreted the change as an insult to their communityâ"the second time in the airport's history that the port authorities had attempted to remove "Tacoma" from the name. The $100,000 that Tacoma had provided for the airport's construction during World War II had come with an explicit promise that the city would be included in the airport's name. The controversy was resolved after polls of Seattle and Tacoma area residents indicated their preference for the original name by margins as much as 5:1. Helen Jackson, the widow of the late Senator Henry M. Jackson, expressed her desire that their family remain neutral in the debate. With a 3â"2 vote of the Port of Seattle Commission, the name was reverted to Seaâ"Tac in early 1984.
In the late 1980s the Port of Seattle and a council representing local county governments considered the future of air traffic in the region and predicted that airport could reach capacity by 2000. The planning committee concluded in 1992 that the best solution was to add a third runway to the airport and construct a supplemental two-runway airport in one of the neighboring counties. Members of the community opposed a third runway, as did the Highline School District and the cities of Des Moines, Burien, Federal Way, Tukwila and Normandy Park, but a 1994 study concluded there were no feasible sites for an additional airport. The Port of Seattle approved a plan for the new runway in 1996, prompting a lawsuit from opponents. The Port secured the necessary permits by agreeing to noise reduction programs and environmental protections. Runway opponents appealed these permits, but dropped their challenges in 2004.
The airport's Central Terminal building, was renovated and expanded in 2003 in a project designed by Curtis W. Fentress, of Fentress Architects.
The new 3rd runway opened on November 20, 2008, with a construction cost of $1.1 billion. Parallel to the existing two, the new runway is 2500Â ft west of runway 34R, allowing landings on both in times of low visibility. The older runways are 800Â ft apart, too close to allow use of both in low visibility.
The three parallel runways run nearly northâ"south, west of the passenger terminal and are 8,500Â to 11,900 feet (2,600â"3,600Â m) long. In 2008 the airport averaged 946 aircraft operations per day, 89% being commercial flights, 10% air taxi operations and 1% transient general aviation.
A new control tower was built beginning in 2001 and opened November 2004, at a cost of $26 million. The floor of the new tower's control cab is 233Â ft (71Â m) above ground level; the tower's overall height including antennas is 269Â ft (82Â m). The cab has 850Â sqÂ ft (79Â m2) of space and was designed to support operation by ten controllers, with possible future expansion up to 15. The site and construction method of the tower were designed to maximize visibility and efficacy of radar systems. The airport's original control tower, built in the 1950s, is now located in the airport's passenger terminal and used as a ramp control tower, after being repaired from damages caused by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001.
A recurring problem at the airport is misidentification of the westernmost taxiway, Taxiway Tango, as a runway. A large "X" has been placed at the north end of the taxiway, but a number of aircraft have landed on the taxiway. The FAA issued an alert notice dated from August 27, 2009, to September 24, 2009, urging airplanes about taking precautions such as REILs and other visual cues while landing from the north.
In 2007 the airport became the first airport to implement an avian radar system providing 24-hour monitoring of wildlife activity across the airfield. This pilot program, designed and implemented with the assistance of the University of Illinois Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT), was designed to decrease potentially fatal incidents involving collisions with birds and to provide a test bed for implementation of the technology in the US which was expected to begin in 2009. The technology is part of a strategy to reduce the presence of wildlife on the airfield.
Threatened Southwest Airlines switch
Citing increased landing fees and other costs due to the work at the airport, Southwest Airlines threatened in 2005 to move to nearby Boeing Field. This plan ran into several problems. Boeing Field is a public airport and each airline would have to have equal access, requiring more capacity than available on the airport's single runway suitable for large airplanes. Major renovations would have been required. While Southwest did indicate willingness to pay for upgrades, there were problems with the transportation infrastructure around Boeing Field, which was not designed to handle traffic in and out of a major passenger airport. It eventually became clear that Southwest Airlines would not fund the necessary transportation improvements and the plan was rejected by King County Executive Ron Sims. Furthermore, there were concerns that the high costs of operating the Seattleâ"Tacoma International Airport would be increased even further if some airline service were moved to Boeing Field, which was expected to be less expensive to operate for the airlines.
Increased Delta Air Lines presence
In mid-2014, Delta Air Lines announced plans to rapidly expand Seattle into a transpacific hub. Since then, Delta has added numerous flights to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, London and dozens of domestic flights to feed those services. By December, Delta expected to offer 95 flights to 33 destinations from Seattle. By the third quarter of 2014, Delta hoped to be the airport's largest sole source of revenue. Delta's increased presence in Seattle has been seen by some industry analysts as a response to United's transpacific hub at San Francisco International Airport. Other analysts speculate that this growth also results from Delta's disenchantment with its Tokyoâ"Narita hub, citing Japan's diminishing importance in light of the boom in Chinese international travel and the lack of a Japanese partner airline.
Delta's rapid expansion at Seattleâ"Tacoma International Airport has created some controversy. Many of the new domestic services Delta started offering from Seattle to boost traffic to international flights encroached on routes that Alaska Airlines, previously a long-time partner of Delta, have historically operated. Additionally, Delta is currently seeking a total of 30 gates at Seattleâ"Tacoma, nearly triple its current 11 gates, to accommodate its planned growth. As an interim solution to overcrowding, the Port of Seattle has announced the North Seaâ"Tac Airport Renovation project (NorthSTAR). By 2020, the North Satellite will be expanded by over 240 feet, increasing the terminal's square footage by 181,000 feet and increasing the gate count from 12 to 20.
"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. President Ed Bastian, in 2014's third quarter earnings call, stated that Delta's decision to cut seats in Cincinnati and Memphis have been 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. Seattle airport spokesman Perry Cooper has also stated that Delta currently plans to operate around 150 flights a day by 2017. This would require 19 or 20 gates, assuming the airline will operate eight flights a day from each gate. Cooper speculates that if Delta takes on 30 gates, over 240 flights a day could be operated. Ultimately, the success of Delta's growth in Seattle relies on the Port of Seattle's decisions regarding further terminal expansions and gate allocation, which is currently assigned to airlines according to a formula that utilizes their number of outbound flights.
The airport's passenger facilities consist of the main terminal building, along with two satellite terminal buildings.
The main terminal building is laid out in an "X" shape, with four concourses, named Concourse A, B, C, and D, forming a different arm. In the middle, where concourses converge, there is the "central terminal," an area with no passenger boarding gates, but several restaurants and retail stores. The central terminal is also the site of the airport's five Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints; one is open 24/7, three are opened based on airline schedules (one is reserved for members of the TSA PreCheck program), and one is reserved for cruise passengers and is open seasonally. Once through security, passengers have access to all gates.
The two satellite terminal buildings, named the north and south satellite, are connected to the four concourses in the main terminal by an underground people mover system.
All international arrivals (except flights from cities with customs preclearance) are handled at the South Satellite Terminal, regardless of their departure terminal.
The entire airport covers an area of 2,500 acres or 3.9 square miles (10Â km2), much smaller than other U.S. airports with similar annual passenger numbers.
The main terminal building has:
- Central terminal
- Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints
- Concourse A has 14 gates (A1â"A14)
- Concourse B has 13 gates (B1, B3â"B12, B14â"B15)
- Concourse C has
- 7 gates (C3, C9, C11, C15, C17â"C18, C20)
- 14 parking slips (Q1-Q8, Q10, Q12-Q16) served via 20 podiums in the terminal (C2Aâ"C2H, C10Aâ"C10F, C16Aâ"C16F)
- Concourse D has 11 gates (D1â"D11)
North Satellite Terminal
The north satellite terminal building has:
- 10 gates (N1â"N4, N6â"N10, N16)
- 3 parking slips (N12Aâ"N12C)
South Satellite Terminal
The South Satellite has:
- 14 gates (S1â"S12, S15â"S16)
- 1 parking slip (S1A)
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility for international arrivals
Satellite Transit System
The airport has a three-line automated people mover (APM) system called the Satellite Transit System (STS). The underground system quickly moves between the passengers within the four concourses of the central terminal and out to the two satellite terminals. Originally opening in 1969, the STS system is the oldest airport people mover system in the United States.
Airlines and destinations
Ground transportation and access
The site of Seaâ"Tac was chosen partly due to its location along State Route 99, approximately midway between Seattle and Tacoma. Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 also converge near the airport, with an easy connection to the airport via State Route 518 and the Airport Expressway. State Route 509 runs to the west of the airport, connecting the area to West Seattle. The airport is the largest generator of vehicle trips in the state.
The Port of Seattle offers paid on-site parking in a 13,000-space garage, notable for being North America's largest parking structure under one roof. Numerous privately owned parking facilities are located off-site near the airport.
Seattle's Central Link light rail line serves the airport at the SeaTac/Airport Station with frequent service to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington. The station opened on December 19, 2009, and is connected to the airport terminal via a pedestrian bridge to the airport parking garage. Another pedestrian bridge over International Boulevard is used to access the city of SeaTac, nearby airport hotels, and King County Metro buses including RapidRide A Line. A 1.6-mile extension of the Link line south to Angle Lake Station at South 200th Street opened on September 24, 2016.
The airport is also served both by the King County Metro bus system and Sound Transit regional express buses.
Tukwila Station, which is approximately 5 miles east of the airport, is served by Sounder commuter rail and Amtrak Cascades regional inter-city rail with service north to Vancouver, Canada, and service south to Portland and Eugene in Oregon. This station can be reached in about 30 minutes via the Central Link light rail or the RapidRide A Line bus service and transferring at Tukwila International Boulevard station to the RapidRide F Line bus service.
The airport is served by door-to-door shuttle services (Shuttle Express and Speedi Shuttle) and several scheduled airporter bus services. Airporters include Bellair Charters to Yakima and Bellingham, and the Quick Shuttle to downtown Vancouver, Canada, through Quick Shuttle, with other pick-up stops at downtown Seattle, Bellingham International Airport, and drop-off stops just inside the Canadianâ"U.S. boundary and at the Vancouver International Airport.
Taxis, limousines, and transportation network companies (Lyft, Uber and Wingz) are also available.
Rental car facility
A 23-acre (9.3Â ha) consolidated rental car facility opened on May 17, 2012. The facility is located at the northeastern portion of the airport at the intersection of South 160th Street and International Boulevard South. The facility has 5,400 parking spaces and can handle up to 14,000 transactions per day. After the opening of the facility, 3,200 parking spaces in the central parking structure were opened up for general use. Passengers reach the facility on a five-minute trip aboard one of 29 low-floor Gillig CNG buses. Previously, only Alamo, Avis, Sixt, Budget, Hertz and National had cars on site; Advantage, Dollar, Enterprise, Thrifty, EZ Rent-A-Car and Fox Rent A Car ran shuttles to off-site locations. Payless Car Rental now has a presence. Customers of Rent-a-Wreck must ride the shuttle to the facility and then board one of the company's shuttles to Rent-a-Wreck's office.
The facility was originally scheduled to open in spring 2011. However, construction was suspended on December 15, 2008, by vote of the Port of Seattle Commission and did not begin again until June 2009.
In 2013, Seaâ"Tac launched a program centered around the local music scene, giving local musicians the opportunity to perform in different locations throughout the airport. It has since become a near-daily staple for Seattle-area musicians. The airport hosts an additional 30 entertainers on site along with the daily music program during the Christmas holiday season.
Seaâ"Tac Airport has seen record growth in passenger traffic over the last few years. That growth has been partly fueled by the nationwide expansion of Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and by Delta Air Lines setting up a major international hub at Seaâ"Tac Airport. That growth has strained the facilities at the airport, leading the port to invest more than $2 billion into several expansion and renovation projects.
D gates hardstand terminal
This project will add six new gates where passengers will wait until boarding time, then will board a large bus outside of the terminal that will transport them to an aircraft parked in a remote area of the airport called a hardstand. At most other gates at the airport passengers board by either walking directly onto the aircraft through a jetway, or in the case of smaller regional aircraft, by walking outside and onto the plane parked near the terminal. Seaâ"Tac Airport officials say the $38 million project can be built quickly and ready for service by the summer of 2018. The hardstand terminal will help the airport deal with gate shortages as other projects are completed around the airport. The building will be connected to the D Concourse by a bridge and to the Satellite Transit System by a covered walkway to the Main Terminal North station. The Port of Seattle calls the building a "temporary facility" but intends to use it for the next 10 to 20 years.
Currently Seaâ"Tac Airport has six outbound baggage handling systems with limited to no cross-connectivity. The system now in place is aging and reaching its maximum capacity. This $320.4 million project will create one unified, high-speed baggage system under the airport. That will allow bags to be checked from any ticketing counter, to receive security screening faster, and to be routed to any gate in the airport. The extra efficiency and speed will allow the airport to handle more baggage in the future without expanding the footprint of the baggage handling systems. The initial phase of this project will be finished in 2018 and the entire system will be in place by 2023.
North Satellite modernization
The North Satellite Terminal has only received limited upgrades since it was opened in 1973 and is in need of modernization. The Port of Seattle initially looked at simply updating the terminal in a project it called the North Satellite Renovation Plan (NorthSTAR). In 2016 it was announced that the Port would also significantly expand the terminal. The $550 million project now called the North Satellite Modernization will increase the size of the North Satellite by 201,000 square feet and another eight gates, bringing the total to 20. In the first phase of the project, scheduled to be complete by mid-2019, the terminal will be extended west by 240 feet, add a new mezzanine level with full-service dining, and a rooftop Alaska Airlines lounge. In the second phase, scheduled to be complete by Spring 2021, the existing part of the terminal will be modernized.
New International Arrivals Facility
The current International Arrivals Facility (IAF) is located in the basement of the South Satellite and has become severely overcrowded at peak arrival times. Additionally, the process for passengers is complicated by the isolated location of the terminal.
To address the situation, the Port of Seattle is building a new 450,000-square-foot IAF east of Concourse A in the main terminal building. The facility will increase capacity by nearly 60 percent by increasing the number of passport check booths and kiosks from 30 to 80 and the number of baggage claim carousels from four to seven. The new IAF will be connected to the south satellite by a 900-foot-long aerial walkway, a bridge that will take passengers 85 feet above the existing airplane taxiway and over the top of Concourse A. The project is expected to be completed by 2021 at a cost of $766 million.
After the new IAF opens the South Satellite will continue to be used for arriving international flights and additional international gates will be added in Concourse A, nearly doubling the number of gates capable of serving larger wide-body aircraft.
South Satellite modernization
Once the new International Arrivals Facility is complete, the Port of Seattle will renovate the South Satellite Terminal.
Accidents and incidents
- November 30, 1947: Alaska Airlines Flight 9, a Douglas C-54A en route to Seattle from Anchorage, Alaska, landed in heavy fog and damp conditions after failed attempts at nearby Boeing Field and Paine Field in Everett. The plane touched down 2,748Â ft (838Â m) beyond the approach area to Runway 20 and sped onto a nearby road, colliding with an automobile and bursting into flames. Nine fatalities resulted from the accident, including a blind woman riding in the car.
- April 2, 1956: Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser headed to Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon and points east, experienced reduced power and extreme buffeting shortly after take-off due to an improper setting of the airplane's cowl flaps by the flight engineer. Plans were initially made to land at McChord Air Force Base, but the pilot was forced to make a water landing in Puget Sound east of Maury Island. The plane sank within 15 minutes. Five of the 38 on board died.
- November 24, 1971: Northwest Airlines Flight 305, a Boeing 727 flying to Seaâ"Tac from Portland International Airport, was hijacked by a man calling himself "Dan Cooper," later misidentified by the press as "D. B. Cooper." Cooper released the passengers after landing in exchange for $200,000 and four parachutes, ordered the plane back into the air and jumped out over Southwest Washington with the money. To this day, neither Cooper nor most of the $200,000 have been found.
- January 20, 1983: Northwest Airlines Flight 608, a Boeing 727 flying from Seaâ"Tac to Portland, was hijacked. The man told a flight attendant that he had a bomb and demanded to be taken to Afghanistan. Federal agents stormed the plane after it landed in Portland for refueling. The hijacker was killed and the box he carried revealed no explosives.
- April 15, 1988: Horizon Air Flight 2658, a twin-engine de Havilland Canada Dash-8 departing for the Spokane International Airport, experienced a power loss in the number two engine shortly after takeoff. While the crew lowered the gear for landing as they returned to the airport, a massive fire broke out in the right engine nacelle, resulting in a loss of braking and directional control. After touchdown, the aircraft veered off the runway and crossed the ramp, colliding with two jetways before coming to a stop against a third. The aircraft was destroyed by fire on impact. Four of the 37 passengers were seriously injured, but there were no fatalities.
- Official website at Port of Seattle website
- Seattleâ"Tacoma International Airport at WSDOT Aviation
- HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History â" Detailed articles on the history of the airport
- FAA Airport DiagramÂ (PDF), effective February 1, 2018
- FAA Terminal Procedures for SEA, effective February 1, 2018
- Resources for this airport:
- AirNav airport information for KSEA
- ASN accident history for SEA
- FlightAware airport information and live flight tracker
- NOAA/NWS latest weather observations
- SkyVector aeronautical chart for KSEA
- FAA current SEA delay information
- OpenNav airspace and charts for KSEA
- Seattleâ"Tacoma Airport Car Rentals