SFO’s revival continues to fly along

Domestic Terminal 2 has been sitting empty at San Francisco International Airport since the sparkling $950 million International Terminal opened in December 2000. Renovations were to begin in fall 2001, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a slumping economy triggered a drastic fall in air passenger traffic.

Terminal 2 flight capacity was not needed … until now. Finally SFO’s 35.8 million passenger level in 2007 has surpassed the 34.6 million fliers of 2001, although that total is still down from the 2000 peak of 41 million.

This means the delayed $383 million Terminal 2 upgrade is finally set to take off this month. The smallest of SFO’s four terminals at 610,000 square feet, Terminal 2 is scheduled to reopen in fall 2010. The updated facility will feature four new gates, a bridge to the AirTrain, new concessions and preferential parking for hybrid cars.

There will also be new baggage-handling and in-line explosive-detection systems. And preliminary plans are underway for a new paperless ticket system that would transmit boarding pass barcodes to a passenger’s cell phone or PDA.

SFO’s ambitious Terminal 2 modernization is particularly impressive because it comes while the airline industry suffers widespread woes. Skyrocketing fuel prices are pushing airfares through the roof, four airlines declared bankruptcy and federal investigations into maintenance violations were recently conducted at several major airlines.

SFO Director John Martin attributed much of the comeback to three new low-fare carriers that began flying out of the airport last year — Virgin America, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines.

Virgin, the brand-new airline headquartered in Burlingame, will be the lead tenant at Terminal 2. Southwest and JetBlue are also likely occupants, making Terminal 2 the airport’s low-fare departure center.

<p>The trend-defying continued growth at SFO can actually be credited to a number of encouraging factors, not the least of which is the high-quality performance of the airport’s management team. The energetic marketing and satisfying service of upstart air carriers Virgin America, Southwest and JetBlue must also be cited, along with the public’s openness to seek out an impressive value.

Other causes of SFO’s unbroken comeback streak can be found beyond the airport itself. The Bay Area’s attractiveness as an air travel destination remains strong. Overseas tourists are drawn by the dollar’s falling value while business travelers are brought here by the leading-edge computer technology of Silicon Valley and the emerging world-class biotechnology industry. The Bay Area is also the undisputed West Coast hub of trade with Asia.

So even as the Bay Area fuels the continuing revival of San Francisco International Airport, the airport’s success not only reflects the Bay Area’s economic strength, it also helps sustain the growth of our regional prosperity.

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