SAN FRANCISCO — A regional panel gave San Francisco Bay area airports approval to extend runways into the bay, paving the way for the biggest encroachment on the bay in 40 years.
Environmentalists oppose the idea, saying the airport needs to examine other options to deal with long delays and canceled flights that plague the airport.
Supporters say the new runways would ease delays, cut down on noise complaints from neighbors and accommodate larger aircraft. They also say the runways are necessary for the economy of the area. Visitors bring an estimated $10.7 billion to the area.
The Regional Airport Planning Committee passed the plan Friday with a 10 to 1 vote, with four committee members absent. The plan would affect San Francisco International and Oakland International airports.
“Those people who have experienced delays at SFO for a long time can say there is something that is being done in the long-term to respond to that issue,” said William Ward, committee chairman. “I think this document says we’re finally going to support the new infrastructure improvements that will allow us to catch up with the population growth and the growth in the economy.”
The committee’s approval is advisory. It will be used in planning growth in bay area air traffic over the next 20 years.
Cary Greene, who represents San Jose International Airport, cast the sole “no” vote, saying the plan was too vague and that there was too much confusion over what the plan actually does.
“This plan does not in any way approve, support or endorse any specific runway project at any specific location, and if that’s the case, the plan needs to be very explicit ... if that’s not the case, I’ll have to vote ’No,”’ he said.
San Francisco airport officials want to replace two of the four existing runways to increase the space between the parallel landing strips. The new runways would jut up to a mile farther into the bay.
During bad weather at the San Francisco airport, the airport’s capacity is cut in half because federal regulations require greater distances between planes.
Oakland airport officials also are considering adding a runway in the bay to handle increased capacity.
Environmentalists say other options, such as using better radar or sending planes to other airports, would be viable solutions to the airports’ problems.
“This is not a plan, rather, a pretty weak description of each major airport’s proposed projects. It suggests gridlock is inevitable, planning is impossible, and detailed, comparative analysis is beyond this committee’s scope of mandate,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay. “It’s a mistake to endorse more runways into the bay – an already severely degraded resource – without that kind of regional airport system plan.”