A Delta Air Lines Boeing 737 taxis behind a Alaska Airlines 737 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 737 taxis behind a Alaska Airlines 737 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Where’s the next Sea-Tac? Aviation here is expected to soar

A new study predicts demand for airline service in the Puget Sound region will double by 2050.

SEATTLE — Demand for passenger air service and air cargo capacity in the Puget Sound region is expected to soar over the next three decades, an ongoing aviation study says.

Passenger enplanements — the number of people departing on a scheduled flight — is expected to more than double, from 24 million in 2018 to more than 50 million in 2050.

The Regional Aviation Baseline Study, expected to be completed in fall 2020, will be used to inform aviation planning. Its authors are anticipating future needs for airline service, air cargo and general aviation at airports in Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties through 2050, said Josh Brown, executive director of the Puget Sound Regional Council, the four-county planning agency that is developing the study.

“Aviation plays a critical role in the region’s economy and quality of life,” Brown said. “Our airports support the largest aerospace manufacturing center in the world.”

The study assumes “unconstrained” growth. Factors such as “not enough room in the skies and not enough terminal gates could constrain demand for air service,” he said.

On a global scale, demand for airline services is on pace to dramatically rise in coming decades. It’s anticipated to fuel aircraft production and airport and airline expansion.

According to market studies by Boeing and Airbus, the airline industry will need about 40,000 new passenger jets and freighters valued at more than $6 trillion over the next two decades.

Locally, Puget Sound’s projected population growth and concurrent job growth will be among the key drivers , the study said.

The metropolitan area’s population, which was 4.1 million in 2018, is expected to rise to 5.8 million.

The Puget Sound region has 29 airports in all. One of them, of course, is an international hub, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Of eleven smaller airports, two have scheduled passenger service: Paine Field in Everett, which launched commercial flights March 4, and, starting this week, Boeing Field in Seattle.

On Monday, JetSuiteX began passenger service to California’s Bay Area from King County International Airport, as Boeing Field is formally known. The carrier operates three daily flights between Seattle and Oakland International Airport, using Embraer 135 jets that seat 30.

Also on that airport list are Arlington Municipal Airport, Harvey Field in Snohomish, Renton Municipal Airport and Boeing Field in Seattle. The list also includes military airports, this biggest of which is Joint Base Lewis-McChord Field in Pierce County.

Another 15 airports, including Darrington Municipal, Skykomish State Airport and Sky Harbor in Snohomish County, aren’t part of a national plan of airports eligible for federal money to make improvements to runways and taxiways. Arlington Municipal received $1.1 million this spring.

Regional air passenger traffic and cargo volume have already reached record levels and are expected to increase, the latest chapter of the study said. This spring the Legislature authorized the formation of a committee to identify six possible locations for a second Sea-Tac-caliber airport. The committee must also develop a timeline to ensure the facility is functional by 2040. The aviation baseline study could be a useful tool in the process.

Other key findings of the study:

• Commercial service, defined as regularly scheduled passenger service, is closely tied to economic and demographic trends. As the region becomes a more important hub for connections to Asia, demand for fights will increase.

• The number of takeoffs and landings is expected to grow from 438,000 in 2018 to between 810,000 and 914,00 in 2050, up 85% to 109%.

• Cargo service includes freight and mail carried in the lower hold of passenger aircraft as well as on air freighters. Globalization and e-commerce are driving dramatic air cargo growth, the study said. And strong Washington exports and a surge in international flights are fueling regional air cargo growth.

• Demand for regional air cargo capacity is expected to grow from 552,000 metric tons in 2018 to 1.3 million tons by 2050, a 136% increase.

• Regional demand for general aviation operations — such as aviation activities for business, flight instruction, medical services, law enforcement, recreation and tourism — is expected to grow at a far-slower pace. Nationally, there have been gradual declines in recreational flying due to rising costs, competition from other activities and lower commercial airfares.

However, business and and for-profit general aviation, such as sight-seeing and skydiving, are expected to increase. As a result, regional demand for general aviation operations is predicted to increase from 1.35 million in 2017 to 1.8 million by 2050, up 34%.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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