Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Fri March 25 2016

Why Seattle Could Soon Get Many More International Flights

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 25, 2016

Why Seattle Could Soon Get Many More International Flights

PHOTO: Sea-Tac Airport could see a huge bump in international departures thanks to a combination of  technology and geography. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The newest versions of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are making longer and longer flights possible both because of their range and their lower cost of operation, which could have huge implications on ultra-long-haul routes out of the U.S. 

And while technology is helping open up routes to Southeast Asia and India from the U.S., it is geography that will ultimately make the main beneficiary Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport.

For long haul flights, being further north is better

The world is not flat, so most of these transcontinental flights from the U.S. have what seems like a U-shaped path that takes them north and then back south rather than flying straight over the ocean across the "fattest" part of the globe.

Because of this, cities with more-northern latitudes are better locations for international hubs, at least as far as North America and Europe are concerned. One of Europe’s northernmost capitals, Helsinki, is where Finnair launches long-haul flights to Asian destinations that cannot be as easily reached by carriers based in European cities that are further south and west.

Seattle's geographic advantage

Seattle could soon be another example of such a city. Currently, the Washington hub has flights to East Asian destinations like Beijing, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo. It also is connected to Dubai with daily flights operated by Emirates. The new planes could mean airlines will consider building more routes from Seattle to destinations in Southeast Asia and India.

READ MORE: Seattle-Tacoma Airport Set All-Time Passenger Record in June

Because of its location and flight paths, Sea-Tac is about 600-700 miles closer to Asian destinations than the major California hubs. That difference can mean a lot when it comes to range, but it also helps when it comes to fuel costs. And airlines that buy Dreamliners and new A350s are doing so because they are conscious of fuel costs.

Significant savings on fuel costs

Lower fuel costs translate into less risk for airlines when it comes to establishing new routes. The 600 fewer miles that airlines have to fly from Seattle (compared to this distance flown for California hubs) can make the routes more profitable.

Even if the routes are only 10 percent shorter when the plane takes off from Seattle instead of SFO, that means that fuel costs are 10 percent cheaper (roughly). Since margins are often narrow on overseas flights, that 10 percent can be the difference between making a profit and losing money on a route. 

The lower fuel costs and lighter, smaller planes also mean that airlines won’t have to risk as much money when they experiment with new routes from Seattle. Airlines will certainly still offer some transpacific services from LA and San Fran, but a rise in the number of international flights from Seattle is certainly likely as well.  

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