Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is not the only major airport in the Pacific Northwest undergoing a major expansion.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is in the process of building a US$968-million expansion of its international terminal building facilities, including a new 450,000-sq-ft international arrivals facility (IAF) for baggage claim and customs processing.
The number of international-capable gates will nearly double from 12 to 20, baggage claim carousels will be larger and increase in number from four to seven, and the number of passport check booths and kiosks for arriving international passengers will increase from 30 to 80.
These improvements will more than double the airport’s international passenger capacity to 2,600 passengers per hour and reduce the minimum passenger connection time from 90 minutes to 75 minutes.
But the largest visually head-turning component of this airport improvement project is a feat of engineering: a 900-ft-long, 85-ft-tall aerial overpass — an enclosed bridge that will take international passengers high above the airplane taxiway between the south satellite building and the new IAF.
The overpass will be high and wide enough for a Boeing 747 to taxi underneath, with ample room to spare. It will be complete with a moving sidewalk along its length, as well as escalators and elevators at both of its ends.
At other airports, infield satellite terminal buildings are usually connected to the main terminal buildings using an underground connection, but SEA has decided to use an aerial connection as it is more cost-effective.
Two concrete towers to support the overpass are currently being erected, and sometime this summer the prefabricated, single-piece overpass will be erected overnight into place using giant cranes.
The entire IAF project, including the new overpass, is scheduled for a fall 2020 opening.
Furthermore, a separate US$700-million renovation and expansion of the north satellite building will open in several phases through 2021. The first phase adding five gates and over 200,000 sq. ft. of floor area opened earlier this year.
The Port of Seattle says the expansion is necessary to accommodate growing passenger traffic. Over the last five years, overall passenger numbers have grown by 41% to over 47 million annually — pushing SEA into becoming the ninth busiest airport in the United States.
Although its share of international passengers is smaller than YVR’s, international passenger activity is on the upswing, doubling in the past decade.
In 2017, just 4.4 million passengers at SEA were on international flights, with the one-hour, direct YVR to SEA route – served by Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, and Delta, United Airlines, and WestJet – being SEA’s busiest international flight. This short cross-border route had 633,000 passengers last year, far higher than Seoul (2nd place) with 424,000 passengers and London (3rd place) with 383,000 passengers.
Comparatively, YVR in the same year had 24.2 million passengers, with 6.43 million international passengers, 5.995 million passengers bound for US destinations, and 11.74 million domestic passengers. YVR’s latest growth trajectory projects total number of passengers will rise to 31 million by 2022 – up from 17.6 million in 2012.
YVR is currently undergoing a 20-year, $9.1-billion improvement project, which includes a significant expansion of its terminal facilities. Construction on the first phase of the terminal building expansion — an extension of Pier D — is slated for a 2020 completion and opening.