Alaska Air vs Sea-Tac Airport: As if Alaska Airlines doesn’t have enough to do fending off Delta Air Lines, the Port of Seattle, owner of the Sea-Tac International Airport, wants to build a new International Arrival Facility (IAF) for more than $600m.
There certainly is a need. The current IAF is in the South Satellite Terminal. It’s old and it’s small. With Delta making Seattle its West Coast hub, and additional service added by a number of airlines (including, from Delta’s view, that dastardly Emirates Airline), it’s clear a new IAF is needed.
But therein lies the rub. The IAF, by definition, will be used by international flights–not by domestic flights. Yet under the Port’s financing proposal, all carriers at Sea-Tac will have to pay for the thing. Alaska, which operates more than 50% of the flights at Sea-Tac, has no international routes from Seattle save Canada. Alaska officials are understandably unhappy with the proposed funding source. Not only would Alaska be paying for a facility it won’t use, it would be subsidizing Delta’s operations.
Airport facilities are hugely expensive, and Sea-Tac is landlocked, requiring some really creative thinking to expand within airport boundaries. This undoubtedly adds to the cost. But, according to Alaska, the proposal is nearly twice the original plan. One has to wonder how the cost doubled and what gold-plated extras might be included that can be cut.
Some 10 years ago, another carrier objected to the cost of expansion and remodeling at the airport. Southwest Airlines responded by proposing to move to nearby Boeing Field (its real name is King County International Airport, owned, as its name suggests, by the County). Alaska threatened to shift about 80 flights to Boeing Field if Southwest moved there in order to remain competitive. The Port found a way to cut costs, Southwest stayed at Sea-Tac and so did Alaska.
Boeing Field is still available for flights and recently the Snohomish County Board voted to approved commercial flights at Paine Field, home to Boeing’s wide-body production plants. The Everett airport is well north of Seattle. Traffic congestion is so bad along the I-5 corridor that runs from Canada, past Everett, through Seattle, and past Sea-Tac, that a second commercial airport in Everett is needed.
Alaska has said if Paine opens to commercial flights it will put a small number there. Perhaps Alaska should think bigger. I can argue why it makes no sense for Alaska to split its operations, but on the other hand, I think Paine Field is ripe for commercial airline service.
Or, Alaska might acquire some good, zero-time Boeing 767-300ERs and start its own international service from Sea-Tac. Not only would it get some return on its investment (should the Port not come up with a different funding formula); it could give Delta a good run for its money. Delta’s international service is just “OK;” Alaska’s service would have to be better.