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 in 2008. It was the 15th leading gateway when compared with all U.S. air, land, and sea freight gateways.

In 2008, SFO handled 7 percent of all U.S. international merchandise air freight by value (table 1). About $53 billion worth of merchandise trade was shipped through SFO in 2008, a decrease of 14 percent from $62 billion in 2007. Exports fell about 10 percent, and imports fell 18 percent (USDOC CB 2009b).1 By weight, SFO ranked ninth among air gateways, handling about 3 percent of U.S. international air merchandise tonnage (table 1).2 It handled nearly 260,000 tons of international air cargo in 2008, down 14 percent from 2007 (table 2).

SFO, like Los Angeles International Airport, is a major hub for trade with Pacific Rim countries. But unlike East Coast and Midwest airports, which show European countries as the first stops for goods destined for Pacific Rim countries, SFO connects directly to Asian markets because of its geographic location. In 2008, the major origin and destination countries on nonstop international flight segments to and from SFO were Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan (table 3). For SFO, the top origin and destination markets were also the same countries.3

The San Francisco area is home to high technology firms of Silicon Valley. Accordingly, the major categories of exports from SFO include high-tech products such as computers, semiconductors and semiconductor equipment, electronic equipment and parts, medical equipment, and telecommunications equipment. Because of the dominance of technology products shipped from SFO, the airport has a value-to-weight ratio more than twice that of most U.S. airports.4 Similar information about imports is not available. Among the top 25 combined air, land, and maritime gateways, SFO had the sixth highest ratio of exports to imports in terms of the value of its trade (50 percent), primarily because of the dominance of the technology-related exports.5

Several major domestic and international air carriers operate through SFO. In 2008, United Airlines was the largest carrier of international merchandise imports and the second largest carrier of exports. The top air carriers were United Airlines, Asiana Airlines, China Airlines, and Eva Airways (table 5). SFO has recently added new cargo facilities, which will serve an important role in the airport's capacity to handle more merchandise trade as the world economic conditions improve.

1 The 2007 data used in this comparison are not presented in table 1. The data are available online in the gateways database at

2 Ranking of air gateways by weight is available in table 9 of this report's overview section.

3 This information is based on Form 41 International Market Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Office of Airline Information. Origin-destination airport-pair data by value are not available from the merchandise trade data. See box 2, page 15, for further discussion of the segment and market data.

4 Bay Area Council Economic Institute, International Trade and the Bay Area Economy: Regional Interests and Global Outlook 2008 (San Francisco: Bay Area Council Economic Institute, 2008), available online at as of July 20, 2009.

5 See table 2 in this report's overview section.