Renovation of Sea-Tac International Airport moves forward; Director Lyttle says growth is essential
By Lindsay Peyton
From his office at the Sea-Tac International Airport, aviation director Lance Lyttle can watch as construction progresses on the airfield.
This isn’t his first rodeo.
Before assuming his current post at Sea-Tac two years ago, Lyttle served as chief operating officer for Houston’s three airports, where he led a multi-year strategic development plan with capital budgets exceeding $3 billion. He was also a major player in a $6 billion development program in Atlanta.
Still, Lyttle admits the major renovation at Sea-Tac is challenging.
“This airport has been the fastest growing in the country for the past three years,” Lyttle said. “We have a very small footprint. We have to keep growing, because the population is growing.”
In 2015, the airport served more than 42 million passengers. By 2034, studies forecast that about 66 million passengers will be using the airport each year.
By that time, Sea-Tac hopes to add 35 additional gates to its current 88, as well as 16 more international gates.
In addition, the airport has older facilities that needed to be brought up to date, Lyttle said.
“If you go to the South Satellite, you’re basically going to the 1970s,” Lyttle said. “The plan is to get every facility up to service standards.”
The North Satellite, which is 45 years old, will also be expanded and renovated. Lyttle said the first phase of construction is should be complete by 2019 and the second phase by 2021.
The $550 million expansion will include adding eight new gates with a 240-foot extension of the building to the west, as well as an upper level mezzanine, which will more than double the existing dining and retail square footage. A rooftop Alaska Airlines lounge will provide travelers views of the Olympic Mountains.
The Port of Seattle also has broken ground on a $766 million new and expanded International Arrivals Facility.
“There’s a tremendous growth of international passengers at Sea-Tac,” Jeffrey Brown, director of aviation facilities and capital projects, said. “The existing facility has outgrown its useful life in terms of structure and ability to serve passengers.”
The South Satellite has been handling the international traffic. Originally designed to serve 1,200 passengers per hour, the facility is now processing about 1,960 per hour.
“It’s really cramped,” Brown said. “Because we can’t process the amount of passengers, sometimes we have to hold them in the plane.”
After an international flight, an additional hour or two on the runway can be grueling, he added.
“It’s not the level of service we want to provide,” Brown said.
Construction crews have already broken ground on the new facility and are currently working on preparing the foundation.
The Port is following a progressive-design build model, which contracts the same company to both design and build the facility.
“It’s more fast track,” Brown said. “It’s more schedule-driven.”
Speed is essential when dealing with the demand international travel has, he explained.
The new facility will connect to the existing airport with an aerial, pedestrian bridge, eliminating the need to take a train through the airport.
The walkway will be built on site and then transported and installed in one day, Brown said.
“We think it’s going to be iconic,” he said.
Glass walls will provide views of the surroundings to international travelers. Brown said a similar structure is housed in London’s Gatwick Airport.
Brown added that eight domestic gates at the airport will be converted to “swing gates,” which will be able to accommodate international flights as well.
“It’s going to give us more flexibility,” he said.
New technology will help process passengers faster, including “Automated Passport Control,” “Mobile Passport Control, and Global Entry.
“It’s going to be a state of the art, modern facility,” Brown said. “We’ll have more volume and make it more seamless.”
He is also making plans for art installations in the new space. One artist will be selected who exhibits international flair and another who has a Northwest feel.
Lyttle said international arrivals will also gain double the space for baggage claim.
“We’re doing everything we can to make the experience in international arrivals better,” he said.
SeaTac will gain additional retail and restaurants in the Central Terminal. “Of course you have to go through growing pains ,but it’s going to look spectacular,” Lyttle said.
At the same time, Lyttle said the airport has to balance its growth with its effects on the community.
“Passengers want options, airplanes want more options, but there there’s the community,” he said. “We have to be considerate of the impacts on them.”
The Port has created an airport advisory roundtable with various stakeholders, including city managers, airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration and nearby residents.
“If we get everybody in the same group, there are a lot of issues we can address,” Lyttle said. “I don’t think it will be easy, but this is the best way to do it.”
He expects to get the group up and running by next year.
For more information about the renovation projects at the airport, visit www.portseattle.org.