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Air travel from SFO to Asia continues steady increase

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Travel to Asia has been increasing in recent years as the local and national economies continue their long climb back up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Chinese economy has started taking off.

Four major carriers, United, Continental, Northwest and American Airlines, are pushing the Department of Transportation to allow them to expand their service to Asia. The push comes as fliers, both business travelers and vacationers, line up to head to the Far East.

There’s no word yet on when DOT will make a decision on who canexpand their Asian service, American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said.

But the airlines hope not only to cash in on growing business travel to and from the Far East, but also the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which is likely to attract a high volume of leisure travelers, he said.

The boom is particularly noticeable at San Francisco International Airport, where Asian destinations are the most popular after domestic flights, according to airport officials.

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Nearly 3.8 million passengers arrived from and departed to Beijing, Hong Kong, Manila, Nagoya, Osaka, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei and Tokyo — the nine Asian destinations served at SFO, in 2005, according to the airport statistics.

United Airlines, SFO’s biggest carrier, saw a 2.8 percent increase in travelers to Asia in July 2006 over July 2005, according to spokesman Robin Urbanski.

Some 2.2 million travelers came and went from Europe during the same period; slightly over 1 million for Canada; 721,000 for Mexico and Central America; and nearly 300,000 for Auckland and Sydney.

Airport spokesman Mike McCarron said that in the last year, there has been an across-the-board increase in business and leisure travel to Asia, particularly to China.

“We have certainly seen an increase and it’s undoubtedly because of the quickly growing Asian market,” McCarron said.

R. Sean Randolph, president and CEO of the Bay Area Economic Forum, said that SFO had the most precipitous drop in traffic after 2001. This was due not only to the terrorist attacks but also to the tech bubble bursting shortly beforehand, he said.

“We see SFO really coming back from a staggeringly low level of traffic,” Randolph said. “And with the international economy doing even better, led in large part by the economies in Asia, that has helped tremendously with tourism and business travel.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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