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Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

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Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Seattle–Tacoma International Airport
Sea–Tac Airport
Sea-Tac Airport from the air, looking south.
Airport type Public
Owner/Operator Port of Seattle
Serves Seattle; Tacoma, Washington, U.S.
Location SeaTac, Washington, U.S.
Hub for
Elevation AMSL 433 ft / 132 m
Coordinates 47°26′56″N 122°18′34″W / 47.44889°N 122.30944°W / 47.44889; -122.30944Coordinates: 47°26′56″N 122°18′34″W / 47.44889°N 122.30944°W / 47.44889; -122.30944

FAA airport diagram
Location within Washington
Direction Length Surface
ft m
16L/34R 11,900 3,627 Concrete
16C/34C 9,426 2,873 Concrete
16R/34L 8,500 2,591 Concrete
Statistics (2012)
Passengers 33,223,111 (1.22% up from 2,011)
Aircraft movements 309,597 (1.70% down from 2,011)
Air Cargo (metric tons) 283,500 (1.39% up from 2,011)
Sources: FAA[1] and airport web site[2]

The Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (IATA: SEAICAO: KSEAFAA LID: SEA), also known as Sea–Tac Airport or Sea–Tac /ˈstæk/, is an American airport. It is located in SeaTac, Washington, at the intersections of State Routes 99, 509, and 518, about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) west of Interstate 5. It serves the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, as well as the rest of western Washington state.

The airport has service to destinations throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. It is the primary hub for Alaska Airlines, whose headquarters is located near the airport, and its regional subsidiary Horizon Air.

In 2012, the airport served over 33.2 million passengers,[3] making it the 15th-busiest airport in the United States.[3] It ranks 23rd in total aircraft operations and 21st in total cargo volume.[3] The airport is the largest generator of vehicle trips[4] in the state, and its 13,000-car parking garage is recognized as the world's largest parking structure under one roof.[5]

The top-five carriers at the airport in number of passengers carried in 2012 were Alaska Airlines (35.06%), Horizon Air (14.1%), Delta Air Lines (11.6%), Southwest Airlines (8.5%) and United Airlines (5.7%).[6]


The airport was constructed by the Port of Seattle in 1944 to serve civilians of the region, after the U.S. military took control of Boeing Field for use 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 in 1952–53, but West Coast stayed at Boeing Field until after the Hughes merger. Two years later "international" was added to the airport's name as Northwest Airlines began direct service to Tokyo, Japan. In 1951 four runways were at 45-degree angles, from 5,000 to 6,100 ft long; the NE-SW and NW-SE runways intersected just west of the N-S runway that eventually became today's runway 34R. The runway was lengthened twice, first in 1959 to allow jets and in 1961 to handle traffic for the upcoming Century 21 World's Fair.

Jeppesen airport diagrams for 1966

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. In 1966 Scandinavian Airlines inaugurated the airport's first non-stop route to mainland Europe. The first concourse opened in July 1959. The two-story North Concourse (later dubbed Concourse D) added four new gate positions and a new wing 600-feet long and 30-feet wide.[7] The one-story South Concourse (aka Concourse A) opened in 1961 adding another 688 feet to the length of the airport.[7] The 800-foot-long Concourse B opened in December 1964. It added eight gate positions, bringing the total to 19, a 12,000 square-foot area housed international arrivals, and the offices of U.S. Customs, Immigration, Public Health and the Department of Agriculture.[7] Concourse C opened in July 1966.[7] Just four years later, it was extended to include another 10 gates, bringing the total to 35.[7] The Port embarked on a major expansion plan, designed by The Richardson Associates[8] and lasting from 1967 to 1973, adding a second runway, a parking garage, two satellite terminals, and other improvements. A $28-million new terminal literally swallowed up the old 1949 structure; it was built over and around it. Opened in the 1973, the new terminal quadrupled the area for public use.[7] On July 1, 1973, the Airport dedicated two new satellite terminals along with an underground train system to connect them to the Main Terminal.[9] In the mid-1980s, the Main Terminal was renovated and another 150 feet was added to the north end.[7] Concourse D was expanded in 1987 with a rotunda that added four new gates.[7] In 1993, Concourses B. C, and D were renovated. The project, designed by NBBJ, included the addition of 150,000 square feet and the renovation of 170,000 square feet of space in Concourses B. C, and D.[10] On June 15, 2004, the 2,102-foot renovated Concourse A was unveiled with 14 new airline gates, a dozen new restaurants, new artwork and the airport’s first moving sidewalk.[7]

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 Sea-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.[11]

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 TWA, the fourth-largest U.S. airline.

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 community —the second time in the airport's history that the port authorities had attempted to remove "Tacoma" from the official name. But 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 regarding the name change was resolved after several polls of both 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 3–2 vote of the Port of Seattle Commission the long-standing moniker, and the name reverted to Sea-Tac early in 1984.[12]

Starting 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 strongly 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 new 3rd runway opened on November 20, 2008, with a total construction cost of $1.1 billion. Parallel to the existing two, the new runway was sited far West of the existing runways, so as to allow 2 simultaneous landings in times of low visibility. The airport's older two runways were too closely spaced to allow use of both during low visibility, a frequent condition in the Seattle area.[13]


The three parallel runways run nearly north–south, west of the passenger terminal, and are 8,500 ft (2,600 m) to 11,900 ft (3,600 m) long. During 2008 the airport averaged 946 aircraft operations per day, 89% being commercial flights, 10% air taxi operations, and 1% transient general aviation.[14]

A new control tower was built beginning in 2001 and opened November 2004, at a cost of $26 million.[15] The floor of the new tower's control cab is 233 ft (71 m) above ground level; the tower's overall height including antennas is 269 ft (82 m). The cab has 850 sq ft (79 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 ground 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 to prevent confusion, but a number of aircraft have landed on the taxiway.[16] 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.[17]

In 2007 the airport, together with the University of Illinois Center of Excellence for Airport Technology (CEAT), became the first airport to implement an avian radar system providing 24-hour monitoring of wildlife activity across the airfield. This pilot program was designed to decrease potentially fatal incidents involving avian collisions and 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.[18]

Southwest Airlines controversy

Citing increased landing fees and other costs due to the aforementioned 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 commercial airplanes. (Boeing Field has a parallel, smaller runway used by general-aviation airplanes.) Major renovations to the airport would have been required. While Southwest did indicate willingness to pay for upgrades to the airport, there were also 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 shot down by King County Executive Ron Sims.[19] Furthermore, there were concerns that the high costs of operating the Seattle–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.

Terminals, airlines, and destinations

The airport has a Central Terminal building, which was renovated and expanded in 2003. This project was designed by Curtis W. Fentress, FAIA, RIBA of Fentress Architects, with four concourses (A–D) and two Satellite Terminals (North and South). The satellite terminals are connected to the central terminal by an underground people mover system made by Bombardier. There are three main checkpoints at Sea-Tac and a fourth that is opened as needed during peak periods.[20] Once through security, passengers have access to all gates.

Central Terminal
  • Concourse A has 14 gates (A1–A14)[21]
  • Concourse B has 13 gates (B1, B3–B12, B14, B15)[22]
  • Concourse C has
    • 10 gates (C9–C12, C14–C18, C20)[23]
    • 12 parking slips (C2B–C2H, C2J–C2M)
  • Concourse D has 10 gates (D1–D5, D7-D11)[24] (D6 was removed to create space for American 757 operations at D7)
North Satellite Terminal
  • The North Satellite has 14 gates (N1–N3, N6–N11, N13-N16)
  • Five Parking Slips (N12A-N12D, N12F)
South Satellite Terminal

Note: All international arrivals (except flights from cities with customs preclearance) are handled at the South Satellite Terminal, regardless of their departure terminal.


Busiest international routes from Seattle–Tacoma (2012)[25]
Rank Airport Metropolitan area Passengers Carriers
1 Canada Vancouver International Airport Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 373,846 Air Canada Express, Horizon
2 Japan Narita International Airport Tokyo, Japan 369,369 ANA, Delta, United
3 South Korea Incheon International Airport Seoul, South Korea 236,819 Asiana, Korean Air
4 Netherlands Amsterdam Airport Schiphol Amsterdam, Netherlands 230,885 Delta
5 United Kingdom London Heathrow Airport London, England, United Kingdom 196,890 British Airways
6 China Beijing Capital International Airport Beijing, China 187,367 Delta, Hainan
7 Canada Victoria International Airport Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 163,930 Horizon
8 Germany Frankfurt Airport Frankfurt, Germany 161,439 Condor, Lufthansa
9 Canada Calgary International Airport Calgary, Alberta, Canada 141,810 Air Canada Express, Horizon
10 Taiwan Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Taipei, Taiwan 135,035 EVA Air
Busiest domestic routes from Seattle–Tacoma (June 2012-May 2013)[26]
Rank City Passengers Carriers
1 San Francisco, CA 772,000 Alaska, United, Virgin America
2 Denver, CO 757,000 Alaska, Frontier, Southwest, United
3 Los Angeles, CA 739,000 Alaska, Delta, United, Virgin America
4 Anchorage, AK 706,000 Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, United
5 Chicago, IL (O'Hare) 625,000 Alaska, American, United
6 Phoenix, AZ 625,000 Alaska, Southwest, US Airways
7 Las Vegas, NV 554,000 Alaska, Delta, Southwest
8 Dallas/Fort Worth, TX 511,000 Alaska, American
9 Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN 511,000 Alaska, Delta, Sun Country
10 Portland, OR 490,000 Alaska, United

Other services

Cargo operations

Ground transportation and access

Seattle's Central Link light-rail line serves the airport at the SeaTac/Airport Station, which opened on December 19, 2009.[28]

The airport is also served both by the King County Metro bus system and Sound Transit regional express buses. Taxis, rental cars and door-to-door shuttle service are available. All public transit services are located at the end of baggage claim next to door 00.[29] Taxis and door-to-door shuttle services are located on the third floor of the parking garage in the Ground Transportation center. Yellow Cab has the exclusive taxi contract with the Port of Seattle to operate at the airport. The exclusive contract for "for hire" limo services is held by STILA (Seattle Tacoma International Limo Association).[30] Shuttle Express is the only on demand door-to-door shuttle service operating out of the airport, with service covering Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, and the Eastside. Shuttle Express also provides limos, town cars, and buses on a charter basis.[31] Free parking for the first thirty minutes was discontinued in the mid-1990s.

There is also a scheduled bus service to downtown Vancouver, Canada, through

Rental car facility

A 23-acre (93,000 m2) rental car facility opened on May 17, 2012.[33][34] 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[35] and can handle up to 14,000 transactions per day.[35] After the opening of the facility, 3,200 parking spaces in the central parking structure were opened up for general use.[36] Passengers reach the facility on a five-minute trip aboard one of 29 Gillig CNG buses.[35] Previously, only Alamo, Avis, 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.[35]

The facility was originally scheduled to open in Spring 2011.[37] However, construction was suspended on December 15, 2008, by vote of the Port of Seattle Commission[38] and did not begin again until June 2009.[36][dubious ][39]

Future development

The South Satellite Terminal has reached its maximum capacity for handling international passengers in terms of immigration check stands as well as customs declaration. The existing facility is used to its full potential yet it continues to be packed with people arriving. Plans have been made for major expansions such as adding two new baggage claims and increasing immigration inspection booths from 20 to 30.[40] There is no certainty right now, but there is even a plan for a skybridge or tunnel over to the main terminal at Concourse A where passengers will have a new area. This is a possible solution to the double claim problem for baggage as well.[40]

Incidents and accidents

See also

Aviation portal
Seattle portal


External links

  • at Port of Seattle website
  • WSDOT Aviation
  • Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History – Detailed articles on the history of the airport.
  • PDF), effective July 24, 2014
  • FAA Terminal Procedures for SEA, effective July 24, 2014
  • Resources for this airport:
    • AirNav airport information for KSEA
    • ASN accident history for SEA
    • FlightAware live flight tracker
    • NOAA/NWS latest weather observations
    • SkyVector aeronautical chart for KSEA
    • FAA current SEA delay information
    • OpenNav airspace and charts for KSEA

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