Stockton set to become a ‘San Francisco airport’, but what’s in a name anyway?

Reports arising from California suggest that the San Joaquin County leaders are considering a proposal to change the name of Stockton Metropolitan Airport to include San Francisco in the new branding. The county-owned airport could become ‘San Francisco Stockton Regional Airport’. An advisory committee suggests it will help attract business, increase awareness of the airport’s location and make a connection with the Bay Area for marketing purposes.

Stockton, a city of around 300,000 inhabitants, is located 50 miles south of the state capital, Sacramento, and 75 miles east of San Francisco and the Bay Area generally, including San Jose and ‘Silicon Valley’, some of the wealthiest parts of the United States of America.

MAP – Stockton is the county seat of San Joaquin County in the Central Valley of the US State of CaliforniaSource: Google Maps

But it might as well be on Mars when its socio-economic problems are examined. Over the last ten years Stockton has appeared in many lists that it most certainly wouldn’t wish to such as:

  • The tenth most dangerous city in the U.S., the second in California after Oakland and the seventh worst for auto theft (2012);
  • The third least literate city in the U.S., with less than 17% of adults holding a college degree (2013);
  • The eighth most miserable U.S. city, largely as a result of the steep drop in home values and high unemployment (2012);
  • The joint most obese metro area in the U.S. (2010).

Having been badly affected by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2007 the economy is still in a mess and in 2012 Stockton became the largest U.S. city in history to file for bankruptcy protection (later replaced by Detroit). It exited Chapter 9 bankruptcy in Feb-2015.

The joint civil-military and county-owned Stockton Metropolitan Airport,  located approximately 10 kilometres (six miles) southeast of the city, is categorised as a primary commercial service airport by the FAA. Ultra low cost carrier Allegiant is the sole commercial airline partner with three routes: the gambling Mecca of Las Vegas, San Diego in southern California and Phoenix, Arizona. Critically, several cargo routes are operated by Amazon Prime Air and there is considerable general aviation activity.

MAP – Allegiant Air is the sole scheduled passenger airline at Stockton Metropolitan Airport with links to Las Vegas, Phoenix and San DiegoSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

No traffic figures are available but it is understood that around 100,000 passengers per annum use the airport, which is well below what is regarded as sustainable by organisations such as Airports Council International. Right now the airport promotes itself on its website as ‘The Bay Area’s Best-Kept Secret’ and there is no arguing about that. Even a modern terminal, notably inexpensive car parking and a total lack of congestion is not driving growth.

Thus there are good reasons why the county officials would want to create a halo effect by linking their city’s airport with San Francisco, a glamorous metropolis with a strong economic and cultural base and trans-Pacific ties.

They may indeed wish to attempt to replicate what Ontario International Airport is trying to do, a similar distance to the east of Los Angeles. Having quit the oversight of Los Angeles World Airports, Ontario International is attempting to establish itself as a new domestic and international gateway to southern California.

Stockton is accessible in around one and a half hours on the I-580 E from San Francisco, again similar to the Ontario International and Los Angeles. But Stockton has a smaller local and regional population to call on and while the economy of the Inland Empire to the east of Los Angeles is not great, it is in a better place than the Stockton area.

The renaming of airports to take advantage of wider geographic areas is not new and has been particularly prevalent following the low cost carrier revolution as budget carrier  sought to convince passengers that the airport was just on the outskirts of the city centre, when in fact it might be a couple of hours bus ride away. History provides mixed messages of the value of such moves to rebrand in conjunction with larger cities in their proximity with examples proving a blessing and others a curse.