But the worst seems to be over for SFO, McCarron said, pointing out that SFO's credit ratings have recently edged upward. Standard & Poor's and Moody's give A ratings with stable outlooks to SFO. Fitch Ratings gives SFO a slightly better A1 with a stable outlook.
When the largest tenant, United, slid into bankruptcy in December 2002, "there were some nail-biting days,'' McCarron said. But United "never fell behind in their payments'' on any rented facilities at SFO, a United creditor that had observer status in Bankruptcy Court. The Chicago airline emerged from Chapter 11 on Feb. 1 and posted its first profit in six years in the second quarter.
Even during its three-year journey through Chapter 11, United began service between SFO and Beijing and between SFO and Ho Chi Minh City via Hong Kong. Next year, it plans to resume service between SFO and Seoul.
All this is in line with broad trends at SFO, where about 45 percent of the airport's 8.2 million international fliers come from or go to Asia -- led by booming China and India and prosperous Japan.
Indeed, international travel is strong worldwide, according to the trade organization Airports Council International, which reported a 5 percent rise in international travel for July 2006 from July 2005. Domestic traffic was flat, the council reported.
With its strong position as an international gateway to Asia and Europe, SFO is well-situated, McCarron said.
And while passenger confidence ebbs and flows with reported security threats such as last month's alleged United Kingdom bombing plot, the slow economic recovery appears to still be on track, McCarron said.
"The latest hiccup didn't have much effect on us after the first 48 hours,'' McCarron said of the bombing plot, which caused chaos at London's Heathrow airport. "Traffic remained strong throughout the rest of the summer. We're seeing the usual post-Labor Day slump, but nothing big. People want to keep moving on with their lives. They don't want to be scared.''
The impact on SFO
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, along with the dot-com bust, caused a drop in passenger traffic from 41 million passengers in 2000 to 29 million passengers a year later.
The airport has had to shelve such projects as a new airport hotel and renovated terminal. Combined with political opposition, unstable finances also stayed a reconfiguration of its runways.
It cut its staff by a third.
It has had to spend $150 million to beef up security; a third of the cost was reimbursed by the federal government.
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The survey was conducted without the knowledge of airport officials and results were announced last week.
SFO and 11 other airports to test technology and process of passenger explosives screening.