Open House: Challenges and opportunities to address demand

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As we begin examining the options available to the region to address growing aviation demand, there are challenges and opportunities for commercial service, air cargo, and general aviation. Because the biggest factor in addressing aviation demand is the projected increase in commercial passenger service, we will limit discussion of air cargo and general aviation issues in this open house. There is more detail on both of those topics in the presentations on the project homepage.


Commercial service challenges and opportunities

The biggest challenge to managing demand is in commercial (passenger) service. The projected gap in service by 2050 is roughly equivalent to the amount of passenger service that moved through Sea-Tac in 2019. Without expanding capacity, the private market – airlines – will respond to limited capacity by raising ticket prices, delays will become more frequent, it will take longer to move through security, and parking and airport access will become more difficult for most travelers.

Existing commercial service airports – Sea-Tac, King County International Airport, and Paine Field – are limited in their ability to expand. However, there are several general aviation airports in the region that could support future commercial passenger service.

Additionally, as drive times increase, there is a lack of reliable airport access for Kitsap and Pierce counties and eastern Snohomish and King counties.


High-speed rail is often discussed as an opportunity to divert trips away from air travel.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) completed an Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Business Case Analysis in 2019 and found that high-speed rail could replace air trips for 68,000 to 124,000 passengers between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., or Portland annually by 2040 – that number represents 0.46% or less of the projected gap in service by 2050.


Pie chart showing market composition with and without ultra-high-speed ground transportation.


Air cargo challenges and opportunities

Air cargo is a factor that could be managed to help accommodate overall demand. Challenges to meeting regional air cargo demand primarily involve limited space for increasing air cargo capacity at Sea-Tac and King County International airports.

However, there are several opportunities to increase capacity for air cargo, such as:

  • Make better use of space and facilities at Sea-Tac and accommodate air cargo warehouse and distribution at off-airport facilities
  • Develop air cargo facilities at Paine Field
  • Use Grant County Moses Lake International Airport during cherry season
  • Shift peak season traffic to Spokane International Airport
  • Develop non-urban airports as ground-based logistics/distribution centers
  • Build multi-story logistics facilities
  • Create a regional cargo community system to increase efficient use of available facilities

There are additional opportunities to increase capacity as autonomous aircraft use is adopted in the future.


Next: Ways to accommodate demand and impacts