Despite tough economy, passenger rolls flying high at SFO 

The City by the Bay remains a hot destination for travelers even as the international economy continues to struggle.

Nearly 20 million travelers flew into San Francisco International Airport last fiscal year, about a 4 percent increase from the year prior, according to a new report released by the airport.

Recent improvements, including the opening of the hub’s much-lauded Terminal 2, played a major factor in the passenger increase, SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said.

Taking advantage of those changes, airlines such as Lufthansa and Air France began using larger jets to fly into SFO, and European flights accounted for the largest increase in international traffic to the hub, McCarron said.

Overall, international flights were up by 5.3 percent last year and domestic flights rose 3.4 percent, according to the report. Since 2008, SFO has seen an 8 percent increase in traffic. Miami International Airport is the country’s only other hub to report a rise during that time.

“We’re working hard to keep airlines happy,” McCarron said. “That means more flights and more passengers for the airport.”

Carriers are favoring SFO over San Jose and Oakland international airports in order to consolidate their flights, a cost-saving development that did not come at the request of SFO, McCarron said. That also has played a role in the overall traffic increase.

But even with the growth, security lines haven’t been any longer, McCarron said. The average wait has continued to be 8-10 minutes, he said, due in large part to SFO shifting two airlines into a new area with the opening of Terminal 2.

Joe D’Alessandro, president of the tourism advocacy organization San Francisco Travel Association, said the airport’s recent growth indicates The City remains a top destination despite the shaky economy.

“If you take a walk along Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square right now, you’re going to hear dozens of different languages being spoken,” D’Alessandro said. “It shows that demand is still strong to visit San Francisco, no matter where you’re from.”

D’Alessandro said the airport needs to attract more international flights to continue this trend. He said an important step was the Airport Commission’s Aug. 15 decision to waive landing fees for international carriers. McCarron said such incentives have been used successively in the past, and the new effort could attract more nonstop flights from locales such as India and China— countries with healthy, expanding economies.

Jim Lazarus, public policy director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said it’s imperative to attract more flights from Asia since the long-term economic outlook there is much healthier than in Europe.

More passengers

19.8 million: Passengers at SFO in 2010-11 fiscal year
19.1 million: Passengers at SFO in prior fiscal year
3.9 percent: Year-over-year increase
2 percent: Increase in airline traffic at San Jose International Airport in 2010-11 fiscal year
1.9 percent: Decrease in airline traffic at Oakland International Airport in 2010-11 fiscal year
69.1 percent: SFO’s share of total Bay Area plane traffic in 2010-11 fiscal year
68.3 percent: SFO’s share of total Bay Area plane traffic in prior fiscal year

Note: Fiscal years run from July 1 to June 30

Source: SFO

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