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San Francisco International Airport hosts record number of passengers

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San Francisco International Airport hosted more than 51 million passengers this past year, a record for the airport, which has used technology to increase its capacity. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner file photo)

San Francisco International Airport hosted a record of more than 51 million passengers and 25.6 million boardings in the past year and predicts air traffic will increase to 29 million boardings by 2021, according to a new SFO report.

Boardings this fiscal year exceeded the 2015 prediction of around 24.5 million boardings.

“There’s a lot of economic potential in this region. Airlines want to invest in areas that are on the rise,” SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel said. “Airlines, on the whole, are doing well financially, so that makes them more likely to invest in additional routes and invest in airports they hadn’t previously served.”

Much of the new employment is in construction projects at the airport and from airlines hiring new staff for new routes.

Newcomers to SFO include Air India, Turkish Airlines and Panama’s Copa Airlines. United Airlines was one domestic provider to add new routes from SFO in the past year, especially to China.

In 2013, SFO began work on a $4.4 billion capital improvement plan that includes construction of a four star Grand Hyatt luxury hotel, set to open in spring 2019 adjacent to the international concourse and linked to the AirTrain. Improvements to Terminal 1 broke ground this summer and will open in phases from 2019 to 2024, Yakel said.

“There is ample capacity for the increased flight activity that we’ve been seeing,” Yakel said. “In the late ’90s, when SFO was in a period of similar growth, there was a lot of discussion about having to build another runway out into the Bay. Twenty years ago, that’s what we thought it would take.”

Instead, he said, new technology and new procedures make better use of the existing runways, like a method called “closely spaced parallel runways” which helps pilots land planes on-time and safely in foggy weather, and a GPS system that Boeing will test later this month.

“The FAA is transitioning, from a 50- to 60-year-old legacy system of using radar to using GPS and its technology,” Yakel told the Airport Commission on July 5.

The airport’s growing air traffic demands are dictated by the FAA, Yakel said.

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