The Port of Seattle is aiming its efforts to prioritize and communicate employee support programs as official data begin to show the dramatic decline in traffic at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) due to the COVID-19 crisis. Passenger traffic was down 56 percent for the month of March, however, air cargo is up nearly four percent reflecting the essential nature of an airport’s role in supporting the economy’s supply chains for products from medical supplies to food and ecommerce.
“This pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on communities who were already furthest from opportunity,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman. “Equitable and inclusive strategies, like transitioning our workforce development programs to safety net outreach and expanding our emphasis on supporting small businesses, ensures that all airport workers and businesses can thrive in a recovery.”
Before the COVID-19 situation, more than 300 businesses employed more than 19,000 workers at SEA, making the airport one of the largest job sites in King County.
More than two-thirds of the dining and retail tenants at the airport are currently closed. Unofficial data from the first half of April shows passenger travel down as much as 95 percent.
The airport is serving only 2,500 departing passengers per day when it would normally see over 50,000 this time of year. Official April data will be available in the third week of May.
Total passengers for the month of March through SEA came to 1,824,676 compared to 4,111,729 passengers during March 2019. That is a 55.6 percent decrease in overall passengers. International passenger traffic dropped to 183,528, a decrease of 59 percent, as 321 international departures were cancelled during the month. This compares to 446,530 international passengers in March 2019.
Air cargo is a lifeline for businesses to maintain revenue, for medical teams that need equipment, and for families looking to replenish supplies. Overall air cargo was up 0.9 percent in March over the previous year, with air freight (excluding airmail) up 2.4 percent. This was driven primarily by the performance of ecommerce and express air freight such as Amazon, DHL, and FedEx which drove domestic air freight up 16.6 percent.
One challenge for local businesses is the decline in international cargo. International air freight was down 24.1 percent due to the reduction in ‘belly cargo’ from international passenger flight cancellations. International freighter operations remain steady, which carry about 40 percent of international air cargo.
The Port has partnered with the Fair Work Center and Port Jobs to facilitate webinars, trainings, and information opportunities for impacted tenants and small business partners to understand and take advantage of resources provided by the federal CARES Act as well as state and local opportunities. Outreach has included distribution to over 25,000 stakeholders and corporate partners.
“We expect to serve 3,000 clients in the second quarter focusing on assistance with both jobs and resources for laid-off workers,” said Heather Worthley, Port Jobs Executive Director. “Many of our clients need that face to face support to guide them through these difficult times. We are working with the Port to setup protective cubicles in our offices to maintain COVID19 guidelines for our staff and those who come in for assistance.”
In addition, the Port will provide rent relief for qualifying business tenants and customers throughout its maritime and landside properties, which include office, retail, and restaurants, along with recreational and commercial moorage.