Keeping the growth engine running

Published: 15 Mar 2017

As managing director of the Port of Seattle’s aviation division, Lance Lyttle deals with big numbers and environmental considerations every day, including at Seattle-Tacoma: the USA’s fastest-growing airport.

How did you work your way up?

My first aviation job was with Hartsfield Atlanta International airport (now Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta) as the chief information officer. I was privileged to lead a talented and innovative team that implemented the first neutral host wi-fi and cellular system at any airport in the USA, and designed a centralised communications and command centre (C4) using internal staff, rather than consultants. From there, I went to the Houston Airport System, which operates George Bush Intercontinental airport (IAH), William P Hobby airport and Ellington airport, as the chief strategy and performance officer. After a few months in that position I was asked to serve as the interim chief development officer, managing a capital improvement programme in excess of $3 billion. One of the memorable projects was planning, designing and constructing an Airbus A380 gate at IAH in record time. I don’t think you will be able to find another team that could say they were able to successfully design and construct a similar gate with dual loading bridges in nine months. I was then promoted to the chief operating officer before taking my present job with the Port of Seattle.

What are your current duties?

I am responsible for the safe, secure and efficient movement of people, airplanes and vehicles through Seattle-Tacoma International airport, while being fiscally responsible, achieving the airport sustainability goals, engaging our employees, adhering to local, state, and federal regulations, and achieving the highest level of customer service. Working at one of the fastest growing airports in the nation, I am also responsible for looking ahead 15 to 20 years to plan and build the airport facilities we’ll need to keep pace with that tremendous growth. I have only been at Sea-Tac since February 2016, but there is plenty ahead of us. The four largest projects account for approximately $2 billion, including a new international arrivals facility, the renovation and expansion of our north satellite, the renovation of our south satellite, and the modernisation of our baggage handling system. As a point of reference, we have approximately nine miles of baggage belts at the airport. This will keep us busy for years to come!

What’s the best part of your job?

Satisfying or exceeding the expectations of our passengers. There is a certain feeling that you get when a passenger smiles because they went through the security checkpoint in less time than they expected, or when an international passenger had a wonderful experience going through the immigration and customs process. It is even more meaningful when they take the time to express this in a feedback survey, email, or via social media. In this business, I have the opportunity to meet, make a connection, and serve hundreds of people on a daily basis.

What’s the most challenging part?

One of the most challenging parts of my job is to balance the need to grow the airport in order to keep pace with the demand of the region, while at the same time understanding the negative impact on the surrounding communities. Concerns from our neighbours can be hard to face as airports inherently produce noise and local impacts. It is our challenge to listen and work with our communities to find sustainable and beneficial solutions. Sea-Tac is the fastest-growing airport in the USA and the sixth fastest-growing airport in the world. It is a major economic engine for the region, and it is a privilege to be in a position to lead a super-talented team that is responsible for the safe, secure and efficient operations of this national asset. 

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