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How Oakland Airport name change will boost the Bay Area’s economy

By Danny Wan, Executive Director, Port of Oakland
April 11, 2024

Say someone wanted to come to the Bay Area to spend a weekend in Wine Country, meet with colleagues at one of the three national laboratories in the East Bay, or even just visit family or friends.

Many of these visitors, who may be unfamiliar with our local geography, would automatically assume the closest airport is San Francisco International Airport. But they’d be wrong.

In all these instances and many others, the Metropolitan Oakland International Airport is closer. That’s why the Port of Oakland, which operates the airport and where I serve as executive director, wants to change the name to San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport — so travelers can make informed decisions about what airport best meets their needs.

According to a recent survey of our customers conducted by FM3 Research, when asked what word best describes Oakland Airport, many chose “close,” “accessible” and “convenient.” Yet, the survey also found that 70% of those surveyed said the lack of flights to their destination is why they don’t fly through OAK.

Why doesn’t Oakland Airport have more flights? The barrier comes down to geographic awareness. To add a flight offering to any airport, it needs to be financially sustainable. That only happens with outgoing and incoming demand. And while surveys like FM3’s tell us there is a demand for outgoing flights, that is less true for incoming. Why? Because many people who visit the Bay Area have no idea where OAK is located. In 2022, we commissioned the consulting firm Lippincott to conduct a market research study to understand why there wasn’t as strong of an incoming demand for OAK. According to the study, more than half of international travelers and nearly a third of domestic travelers did not know where Oakland was located or its proximity to most of the region’s population and attractions.

That’s a problem not just for our airport but the entire Bay Area if visitors find themselves commuting longer than they actually need to, decreasing the time they have to do what they came here for and lowering the overall experience of their visit.

The truth is that OAK is the closest major airport to 58% of the Bay Area population. According to 2022 U.S. Census data, the population of the counties closest to Oakland Airport, which includes Alameda, Contra Costa and Wine Country, is 4.1 million compared to the 1.5 million in San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

We are closer to cities such as Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, San Ramon, Pleasanton, Livermore, Alameda and Hayward as well as Napa and Sonoma counties. We are the closest airport to many major cultural and tourist sites, such as UC Berkeley, Wine Country, Sandia and Livermore labs, and the Port of Oakland. We are also the most convenient airport for many business headquarters, including three of the top five employers in the Bay Area.

From July 2008 to March 2024, OAK’s vigorous marketing campaigns, such as the “I Fly OAK” campaign, resulted in 54 new direct flight routes. However, during the same period, the airport lost 45 direct destinations partly due to the lack of passenger awareness of its location.

Our airline partners have told us about this issue for over a decade. Our largest carrier, Southwest Airlines, one of the biggest employers in Oakland, wholeheartedly supports the proposed name change, as do other airlines, such as Spirit and Volaris. Southwest acknowledged its long history at OAK and how this will help Oakland achieve greater visibility among those looking to travel to the Bay Area.

The East Bay business community and our trade and travel partners representing Oakland, Walnut Creek, the Tri-Valley and Berkeley also support this effort. These companies know that having more choices, flight options and destinations is good for their customers, employees and the Bay Area tourism industry.

Danny Wan headshot

Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan

OAK creates over 30,000 jobs and has a $1.6 billion economic impact throughout Oakland and the region. One new airline route and destination in OAK can create tens of millions of dollars of positive economic impact and support for local workers and businesses through increased visitor spending and related airport activity.

Critics have complained that the name change will be confusing for travelers. But the proposed name change actually does the opposite: It clarifies to the world that OAK is located on the San Francisco Bay, is a convenient option for people flying here, and in many instances, is the better and more efficient choice.

No one city owns the San Francisco Bay or its name. The bay had its name long before the city of San Francisco, which was originally called Yerba Buena, adopted it.

This proposed name change is about standing up for Oakland and the East Bay and taking the necessary steps to create awareness, choice and jobs that will benefit the entire region.