Alaska Air could split Seattle ops

Airline would match Southwest's interest in use of Boeing Field

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Alaska Airlines may move some of its flights from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Boeing Field, almost 9 miles away.

The move hinges on whether Boeing Field allows Southwest Airlines to move its operations there.

Alaska Air Group, the holding company for Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, is requesting equal access to Boeing Field if major carriers are allowed to operate there. Boeing Field is 6 miles from downtown Seattle, while current operations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are 14 miles from downtown.

It's a move Alaska would rather not make, given the cost of relocating staff and equipment, and the scheduling inconveniences it may cause for passengers, said Amanda Tobin, spokeswoman for Alaska.

But to compete with Southwest, Alaska would be "forced" to operate a portion of its flights from Boeing Field, which is why the airline filed the request last week to King County, Tobin said.

Southwest runs 38 daily flights out of Sea-Tac, but wants to grow its business to 85 departures. That would capture about 10 percent of the local market, most likely from Alaska Airlines, said Mark Reis, managing director of Sea-Tac.

Southwest said in a written statement that operating costs at Sea-Tac have become too expensive for the airline to offer the same low prices for fares it offers elsewhere.

Reis said fees charged to Southwest average $8.60 per passenger. Sea-Tac is in the middle of the top 30 national airports for the most expensive fees, he said.

Boeing Field's fees would average less than $5 per passenger, said Carolyn Duncan, a spokeswoman for King County Executive Ron Sims.

If approved by the King County Council, Southwest would start 60 flights out of Boeing Field in 2009 and increase to 85 flights. Alaska Airlines said it would match Southwest's number and offer up to 100 departures.

Southwest plans to spend $130 million to upgrade Boeing Field to accommodate a major commercial airline. It currently offers only regional flights served by San Juan Airlines, Helijet International and North Vancouver Air.

Today the airport lacks sufficient ticket counter, gate, ramp and baggage facilities, as well as parking, access roads and connecting ramps to the nearby interstate, Alaska Airlines officials said in a statement.

"The cost of infrastructure improvements is just one of many reasons we'd rather not pursue commercial service at Boeing Field if we don't have to," said Bill Ayer, chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group.

Tobin said it was too early to speculate exactly how passengers and baggage would be transported between airports if schedules required a transfer. But the company would do whatever it takes to make it as convenient as possible, she said.

The plan faces sizable opposition from neighborhoods around Boeing Field who do not want to be bothered by the added noise and vehicle traffic brought on by the major airlines.

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