Bluer skies bring SFO upgrades 

San Francisco International Airport has been on something of a hot streak lately, with steadily rising passenger traffic, additional airlines either starting or expanding service there and even some key federal decisions going as hoped. All indicators point to a strong comeback from the staggering 2001 one-two punch of the dot-com bust and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Good news at SFO is good news for the entire Bay Area economy, reflecting an increased influx of revenue-producing goods and travelers. It is especially good news for San Francisco, as airport owner, and for San Mateo County, where SFO is located and pays property taxes. Local workers, employers and governmental entities here are the most direct beneficiaries from a cornucopia of salaries, profits, taxes and fees.

And as more airlines gear up to fly out of SFO this summer, the widening competition is likely to result in cheaper fares, which would in turn increase passenger traffic even more. Aggressive low-cost carriers Jet Blue, Southwest Airlines and brand-new Virgin America are among the new entries.

Burlingame-based Virgin America has won preliminary approval from the federal Department of Transportation and appears on track to begin flights this summer. Jet Blue is promising introductory $99 one-way fares from San Francisco to Boston and New York. American, Frontier and Alaska Airlines are also planning on expanding service between SFO and major American cities this year, while Aer Lingus will start flying from SFO to Ireland.

Air travel at SFO is not quite back at the heady levels of those Internet glory days, but airport officials now estimate 13 percent passenger growth for 2008. That is impressive but manageable growth that allows responsible management to act early and stay ahead of predictable problems.

We are pleased that SFO appears to be embarking on exactly the right type of construction, and doing it at a sensible pace to avoid financial overextension. Set to open this fall are three of the International Terminal’s 24 gates, which have never been used. The project will cost $3.6 million, and another $5.3 million was spent this year to demolish a leftover structure that would have blocked the gates.

Crews are already working on a new $14.3 million sky bridge linking domestic Terminal 1 to the AirTrain internal shuttle. It will be nearly identical to the sky bridge connecting domestic Terminal 3 to AirTrain. Currently, Terminal 1 passengers have a 10-minute transfer down an elevator, across a tunnel and then back up an escalator.

SFO officials are even looking at refurbishing now-empty domestic Terminal 2, the old international terminal, so it can be used again. Consultants are now at work under a $1.1 million contract to analyze the best way to move ahead with the terminal upgrade.

All in all, SFO is at an important crossroads with opportunities for significant growth. Better yet, airport officials appear to have a solid plan in place to take full advantage.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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