Open House: Existing conditions and aviation demand forecast

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Existing conditions

Aviation plays a pivotal role in the central Puget Sound region. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) is the eighth busiest airport in the nation for enplanements. The central Puget Sound region hosts major manufacturing and operations of Boeing, the largest aerospace company in the world. The region is home base for Alaska Airlines, the fifth largest U.S. airline by revenue for 2018, and is the Asia hub for Delta Air Lines, the second largest U.S. airline by revenue in 2018. The aviation industry supports high-paying jobs and opportunities for economic development in the central Puget Sound region.


Enplanements are a measure of aviation use. One enplanement is one passenger boarding a flight.


Map of National Plan of Integrated Airports System (NPIAS) airports.The team studied current use of the 29 airports located in the four-county region. Within the study area, there are three commercial service airports:

  1. Sea-Tac is the region's large hub airport serving 50 million passengers annually with an economic impact of $22.5 billion in 2017.
  2. Paine Field recently began commercial service and hosts large aircraft manufacturing; the airport has an estimated economic impact of $20 billion annually.
  3. King County International Airport is one of the nation’s busiest non-hub commercial service airports and contributes $3.5 billion in annual economic impact; King County International also hosts large aircraft manufacturing.

The four-county region is also home to 24 general aviation airports (including seaplane bases) and two military airports.


Hub airports serve as major connecting facilities for one or more airlines. Primary airports offer commercial service and have more than 10,000 passenger boardings each year. General aviation airports do not offer scheduled passenger service; they typically serve private/business aircraft and small charters.
Military airports serve military functions.


2050 forecasts for aviation demand

Chart: Enplanements in the Central Puget Sound Region (millions)

Commercial aviation demand forecast

Regional demand for passenger service is closely tied to national and regional economic and demographic trends. Continued population, employment, and income growth in the region is driving aviation demand and this trend is expected to continue, in spite of temporary decreases in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the region is an expanding hub for connections to Asia, further increasing demand for flights.

Chart: Operations in the Central Puget Sound Region

Regional demand for enplanements is expected to grow from 24 million in 2018 to between 49.3 million and 55.6 million by 2050. This reflects an increase of between 105% and 132%.

Demand for takeoffs and landings in the region is expected to grow from 438,000 in 2018 to between 810,000 and 914,000 by 2050. This reflects an increase of between 85% and 109%.


General aviation demand forecast

Chart: General Aviation Operations in the Central Puget Sound RegionGeneral aviation encompasses aviation activities for business, flight instruction, medical, emergency, law enforcement, recreation, and tourism. Recreational flights have seen a gradual decline for decades nationally, due to increasing costs, competition from other activities, and lower commercial airfares. Business and for-profit aviation are forecast to increase.

Demand for general aviation operations is expected to grow from 1,351,000 in 2017 to 1,806,000 by 2050, an increase of 34%.


Air cargo demand forecast

Chart: Commercial Air Cargo Handled in the Central Puget Sound Region (metric tons)Air cargo includes freight and mail carried in the lower hold of passenger aircraft as well as cargo on dedicated freighters. Globalization and e-commerce are international trends that are driving dramatic air cargo growth. Strong state exports and increasing international flights are also driving regional air cargo growth.

Demand for regional air cargo capacity is expected to grow from 552,000 metric tons in 2018 to 1,300,000 by 2050, an increase of 136%.


Access to regional airports

Good roadway and transit connections to the interstate highway system, state highways, and public transportation are essential to a thriving airport system. The region is expected to see 16.6 million more vehicle miles per day by 2040, increasing hours of delay and drive time to airports in the region.

The number of people in the four-county region within an hour’s drive of Sea-Tac and Paine Field is forecast to drop from 83% of residents in 2017 to 70% in 2050.


What is 60-minute drive-time coverage? 60-minute drive-time coverage is the ability to access an airport that offers commercial service in an hour or less, by car. While this gives an overall measure of commercial service access, it does not measure access by level of service. For example, a single-runway airport will offer service to fewer destinations than Sea-Tac, so someone who can access a single-runway airport within 60 minutes may still have to travel more than an hour to reach specific destinations only serviced by Sea-Tac.


Map showing people within an hour of Sea-Tac and Paine Field in 2017 vs. 2050.


Next: Challenges and opportunities to address demand