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Oakland Airport could get a new name, but the city isn’t getting the (propeller) shaft

OAKLAND — Considering the city’s recent fortunes, a survey seeking feedback on a potential renaming of Oakland International Airport might have deepened worries that the city would soon no longer be associated with one of its largest institutions.

But officials for the Port of Oakland, which manages the 100-year-old airport, confirmed in an email to this news organization that any rebranding will not involve removing the city’s name.

But they’re also not pulling any punches about why they want to make a change — the name “Oakland” alone, it seems, is not selling enough plane tickets.

“Market research both nationally and internationally has shown that majorities of international and U.S. passengers are unfamiliar with Oakland’s or our airport’s proximity to the San Francisco Bay,” port official Matt Davis said in a statement.

“This lack of awareness depressed inbound passenger demand, even from passengers flying to destinations near Oakland,” Davis’ statement added.

The survey, sent out to numerous East Bay residents, gauges how they feel about a possible airport name change, with responses ranging from “very comfortable” to “not at all comfortable” and “don’t know.”

It comes just weeks after the port announced a major expansion of the airport that includes construction of a new 830,000-square-foot terminal, among other facility upgrades.

Passengers come and go at Oakland International Airport's Terminal 1 in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, July 24, 2023. Terminal 1 was built in 1962 and will soon be undergoing renovation. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
Passengers come and go at Oakland International Airport’s Terminal 1 in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, July 24, 2023. Terminal 1 was built in 1962 and will soon be undergoing renovation. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group) 

With suburbs like Dublin, Walnut Creek and Livermore rising in population, the improvements, plus a potential renaming, signal the airport’s broad, region-focused strategy for increasing its profile.

The issue has come up before at another major airport, San Jose Mineta International, which in official uses bears the full name of the city’s late former mayor Norman Y. Mineta.

San Jose leaders have pondered a name change for years, kicking around the idea of adding “Silicon Valley” to the title to attract more visitors — the question Oakland now faces.

And while advertisements on the walls of the Oakland airport tout direct flights to Las Vegas, the airport struggles to service “long-haul routes to popular destinations in the East Coast and Europe,” port officials said.

The renaming, they said, might add a “geographic identifier” that helps would-be passengers “understand the airport’s proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area.”

For all the hypotheticals, though, the exploration seems to be preliminary.

Oakland’s airport, which is so far south off I-880 that even some Bay Area residents often mistakenly believe it is in San Leandro, falls within the district of City Councilmember Treva Reid, who said in an email she hasn’t yet heard any mention of a name change.

Any future renaming would need to be approved by the port’s Board of Commissioners in a public vote. And even if its name is altered, the airport’s three-letter code, OAK, would remain unchanged in shorthand references to flight information.

Still, “Oakland” doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. And while a hypothetical “East Bay Oakland International Airport” might not roll off the tongue, it’s a lot better than “Golden State Airport.”

Staff writers Will McCarthy and John Woolfolk contributed to this report.


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