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Oakland Officials to Proceed With Controversial Move to Rename Airport

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Passengers walk in to the Oakland International Airport in Oakland on April 12, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Oakland Port commissioners voted unanimously Thursday night to move forward with changing the name of Metropolitan Oakland International Airport to San Francisco Bay Oakland International Airport.

The change is an effort to bank on name recognition to increase traffic through the airport. In a late March video announcement, Oakland Board of Port Commissioners President Barbara Leslie said increasing the public’s geographic awareness of the airport was key to increasing the number of flights and destinations available to local flyers.

“We’ve found that over half of frequent international travelers and nearly a third of domestic travelers are unaware of OAK’s amazing location in the heart of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area,” Leslie said in the video.

The commission president added that the lack of awareness has meant flights haven’t performed as well as they could, leading to a loss of routes and a reluctance among airlines to add new routes.

“From July 2008 to March 2024, the airport added 54 new routes; 39 of these and six preexisting destinations were lost,” Port of Oakland Interim Director of Aviation Craig Simon said.

Port officials released the results of two surveys, including more than 1,400 respondents, this week, one focusing on residents within Oakland specifically and the other focusing on residents in the broader East Bay area. There a slim majority of respondents said they were comfortable with the name change. Roughly two-thirds of both groups said they were comfortable with the change after receiving further explanation of the reasons for the change.

But not everyone was happy about it.

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said the new name would infringe on the San Francisco International Airport’s trademark, and the city — which owns and operates SFO — will pursue legal action if the port goes through with the change.

“Any reasonable person can see that the proposed name change is going to create confusion for passengers,” Chiu told KQED after the vote results were announced. “We believe that the proposal appears intentionally designed to divert travelers who may be unfamiliar with Bay Area geography and also lead them to believe that Oakland Airport has a business relationship with SFO, which it does not.”

“They’ve forced us to have no choice but to take legal action,” Chiu added. “As soon as I get to the office tomorrow, I’ll be huddling with my attorneys, and we will figure out next steps.”

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Port of Oakland Executive Director Danny Wan told KQED after the vote that he is not concerned about the threat of legal action based on trademark infringement.

“San Francisco Bay belongs to the whole San Francisco Bay Area region,” Wan said. “We hope not to go through litigation, but if they feel that they must, they must.”

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, which leads the county where San Francisco’s airport is located, also opposes the move. Earlier this week, the Board voted unanimously to pass a resolution opposing the change.

“SFO is a critical economic driver for San Mateo County, being one of the top five employers in the County with approximately 10,000 on-airport employees earning almost $1 billion in FY 2021,” reads the resolution, adding that the change has the potential to “cause adverse economic impacts for businesses that have products delivered by plane.”

SFO leaders also requested that the change not go through. In a written statement, SFO Director Ivar C. Satero said, “We are deeply concerned about the potential for customer confusion and disservice that could result from this proposed renaming.”

Port commissioners will need to go through a second hearing to finalize the decision. That will happen on May 9.

Wan said implementing the change, including changing stationary and signs and asking airlines and travel agencies to change the name in their records, would cost roughly $150,000 and take anywhere from a few weeks to just under half a year.

Editor’s Note: The Port of Oakland is among KQED’s financial supporters.

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