Air Transport World

California cool, San Francisco style. (San Francisco International Airport)

SAN FRANCISCO-More songs probably have been written about San Francisco than any other city in the world-with the possible exception of Paris. The "City on the Bay" has a romantic mystique that seems to call to people all over the world. San Francisco Intemational Airport is counting on that drawing power for the major portion of its growth market. The city of St. Francis has had a link to the Orient since its earliest days, when the great clipper ships would slip through the Golden Gate and dock at the famed Embarcadero. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is carrying on that tradition through a major improvement program aimed at the international market.

Like the city itself, SFO has the problems of a lot of growth and little room for expansion. Although it is the fifth-busiest airport in the U.S., and seventh-busiest in the world, it also is one of the smallest.

At first glance, it appears to be fairly large. It sits on approximately 5,171 acres of land claimed from the San Francisco Bay. However, only 2,282 acres are for airport use. The remaining 2,788 acres are underwater tidelands that have not been developed. This makes SFO smaller than New York Kennedy, Chicago O'Hare and even London Heathrow.

Even a glance at its growth rate doesn't seem all that impressive. Last year, the airport handled 31.06 million passengers, only a 2.1% increase over the 30.43 million handled in 1989. it had 430,253 flight operations, a .6% increase over 1989, although air-carrier operations increased 3.1%, going from 309,126 in 1989 to 318,658 in 1990.

For the next 10 years, it is projecting only 4% annual passenger growth rate.

Cargo growth isn't much better, being hit heavily by competition from Oakland and San Jose airports. Air cargo at the three Bay Area airports has grown 4.4% over the past 10 years, with SFO cargo actually declining by 23%. The airport's market share has dropped from 95% to 70% during that period. A 15-year forecast shows only limited growth through 2006.

The significance of growth comes when one looks at the intemational market. For the past 18 months, the airport has had a 15% growth in international-passenger traffic. According to a master-plan study prepared in 1989, intemational traffic growth should average about 13% per year, so that by the year 2006, such traffic will be at 7.22 million passengers, or 110% of the 1988 figure of 3. …

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