Cost of SFO improvements may trickle down to passengers 

Passengers could bear some of the financial burden as San Francisco International Airport wrestles with how to offset an $896 million tab for improvement projects.

Revenue bonds and grants will be used to mostly fund the airport’s 41 improvement projects, especially the highly anticipated reopening of Terminal 2 with 14 domestic gates in the middle of 2011.

But according to the airport’s five-year financial plan that the SFO Commission is scheduled to vote on today, passengers will feel some of the burn.

Taxi drivers will be charged more per trip if they commute to and from the airport to surrounding cities such as Burlingame or Millbrae, a fee that could be transferred to the rider.

Airport spokesman Mike McCarron said he believed cabbies currently pay about $2.50 per trip, but could end up paying more.

Car renters could be hit with a $20 fee, up from $18.50, to pay for AirTrain’s operation and maintenance, since every year the airport spends about 40 percent of its cash pot on debt services for the 24-hour, free automated people mover.

In addition, rent for operation centers, hangars and cargo buildings would increase by at least 2.2 percent in the next fiscal year, then again by 2.5 percent.

The plan assumes the number of domestic and international passengers — who spend on concessions, rentals and other nonaviation items — will increase from 18.9 million to 19.3 million next fiscal year. And if that number continues to rise every year by about 2 percent, it will pay for an operating budget that increases by about $50,000 each year.

The increase in passengers also depends on the airport’s No. 1 focus among six outlined in the plan: opening Terminal 2, which has been closed since the International Terminal opened in 2000. As a response to JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and Virgin America’s need for more domestic flights, it will add more than 611,000 square feet to the gross building area.

“We’re the only airport in the top 20 that saw [passenger] growth last year,” McCarron said. “Carriers are adding seats and we expect to sell them.”

“SFO has a pretty steady growth stream. I mean, that’s our bread and butter,” commission President Larry Mazzola said.

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