The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Expansion

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Most Prominent Transportation Initiatives in Puget Sound

By William Hillis

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William Hillis

Broker & Research Editor, Realogics Sotheby's International Realty

"Connections from Asia are a key channel for air travel demand, much of which originates from mainland China."


International air traffic from Asia is propelling demand for expanded facilities at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Meeting that demand means sustaining the flow of new visitors and business to our region, together with new opportunities for development and sales.


On September 25, Sound Transit opened two new roundtrip runs of the Sounder between Seattle and Lakewood, bringing the total number of runs both ways to thirteen per weekday. Sound Transit reported that “more than 15,000 riders a day rely on Sounder to let them bypass sitting in traffic getting to and from Seattle.” This compares with the 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles per hour, per lane conveyed by the freeways along the Central Puget Sound corridor.


From 2014-15, seven million new passengers traversed Sea-Tac International, for a total of 42 million in the latter year. In 2016, passenger-trips reached 45.7 million. The Port of Seattle projects that the airport will serve 66 million passengers annually by 2034. According to the Port, this will require 35 new aircraft gates to be added to today’s 88; and 16 new international, wide-body capable aircraft gates in addition to the current eleven. 

Improvements to the international gates at the international arrivals facility include a doubling of passenger capacity to 2,600 passengers per hour; a more than doubling of passport check positions and kiosks, from 30 to 80 kiosks; and the addition of three new baggage claim carousels, from four to seven. All of these are aimed at reducing passenger connection time from 90 to 75 minutes during this period of forecast growth.

Connections from Asia are a key channel for air travel demand, much of which originates in mainland China. The most recent nonstop routes to Asia and back include Xiamen Airlines from Shenzhen, inaugurated in October 2016. International carriers are not only bringing tourists to the Puget Sound region, but also foreign students, foreign workers, and business prospects, and through all these, potential home-buyers. Sea-Tac serves not only Seattle, but the entire Pacific Northwest as an international gateway, and adding to its capacity ensures an open door to the Far East.

Impact: Additional flights and infrastructure allow increased air travel to Seattle by people from various corners of Asia for all sorts of purposes, allowing them to visit or immigrate, work for existing businesses or build new ones. These activities benefit both commercial and residential real estate investment.