San Francisco International Airport, California-Air Freight Gateway

San Francisco International Airport, California-Air Freight Gateway

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was the fourth busiest international air cargo gateway in the United States by value of shipments. And it was the twelfth leading gateway when compared with all U.S. freight gateways—airports, seaports, and land ports.

In 2003, nearly 9 percent of all U.S. international merchandise air freight by value moved through SFO. By weight, SFO ranked sixth among air gateways, with over 3 percent of U.S. international air merchandise tonnage moving through it.

SFO is a major hub for trade with Pacific-Rim countries, just like the Los Angeles International Airport. But, unlike the East Coast and Midwest airports, which show European countries as the first stop for goods destined for Pacific-Rim countries, SFO has direct proximity to those markets because of its geographic location. The major origin and destination countries on nonstop international flight segments to and from SFO are Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. For SFO, the top origin and destination markets also happen to be in the same countries.1

The San Francisco area is home to Silicon Valley. As such the major categories of exports from SFO include high technology products like computers, semiconductors and semiconductor equipment, electronic equipment and parts, medical equipment, telecommunication equipment, and pharmaceuticals.2 Similar information about imports is not available.

In 2003, SFO handled over $47 billion worth of international air freight. A downturn in the technology sector affected air trade passing through SFO. Between 1999 and 2003, the value of international freight handled at SFO declined 35 percent; exports fell by 36 percent and imports fell by 34 percent. Among the top 25 combined air, land, and maritime gateways, SFO had the worst decline in the value of its trade, primarily because of the downturn in the technology sector. During the same period the tonnage of freight moving through SFO declined by 12 percent.

Several major domestic and international air carriers operate through SFO. United Airlines is the largest carrier of international merchandise exports as well as imports through SFO. The top three air carriers (United Air Lines, Nippon Cargo Airlines, and Korean Air Lines) together, accounted for 45 percent of the imports and 39 percent of the exports in 2003. San Francisco airport has recently added new cargo facilities, which will play an important role if the technology sector recovers and the merchandise trade through SFO rebounds.

1 Based on Form 41 International Market Data from Office of Airline Information, Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

2 Bay Area Economic Forum, Report on International Trade and the Bay Area Economy, January 2003.