San Francisco airport officials propose new runways
Goal: Fewer flight delays
September 2, 1999
Web posted at: 5:48 p.m. EDT (2148 GMT)
From Don Knapp
SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is putting forward a plan to help reduce air-traffic delays. But that may not be enough to solve the problems at San Francisco International Airport.
It had the second-worst record for flight delays last year, following Newark, according to the FAA, which says 6.8 percent of San Francisco traffic was delayed, affecting 29,409 flights.
Such delays usually are attributed to the area's famous fog and low clouds. And there's a facilities connection: The agency says San Francisco's parallel runways are too close together to allow planes to land two at a time in bad weather. In good conditions, up to 60 planes an hour can land, often two at once. When the weather deteriorates, one of the two runways must close.
Some airline pilots and officials say the only way to get around that is to build new runways.
Reaching out for a solution
Ron Wilson, an official at San Francisco International, has described the plan. "The runways will end up out in the bay," he says, "4,300 feet (1,311 meters) away from where they are today. And a new runway will be created that's 11,500 feet (3,505 meters) long."
But building new runways means filling in two square miles (3.2 kilometers) of San Francisco Bay. With a $2.4 billion expansion project already underway, San Francisco would spend another $200 million to buy land elsewhere around the bay and restore its wetlands. That hasn't placated those opposed to any more filling of the bay.
"We need to look at a range of transportation alternatives," says David Lewis of Save San Francisco Bay, a conservation program. "The answer is not just to grow into the bay. One of the things that makes this region attractive for business and attractive for people is the bay itself. We've already lost a third of it."
Lewis says two other California airports nearby, Oakland and San Jose, could solve delay problems by easing demand on San Francisco International.
It'll take a couple of years to get the runways through the environmental-review process -- if they go through at all -- and a couple more to get the runways built.
So a potential solution may be at least four or five years away.