Airports respond to increased traffic

The Associated Press
Thursday August 09, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — While San Francisco International Airport struggles to overcome environmental objections to a runway expansion plan, other Bay Area airports are picking up the slack by handling more flights and more passengers. 

With its four parallel runways and frequent fog, SFO has long been one of the nation’s most delay-plagued airports. Its $2.4 billion expansion, which included a new international terminal and additional parking, was finished last year, but has not eliminated the problem. 

Now, city officials are proposing a controversial runway expansion plan that includes filling and paving over part of the bay. 

“At SFO, 30 planes land every hour,” said Michael McCarron, SFO’s assistant deputy director. “The runway plan would allow us to double that number.” 

The plan calls for reconfiguring the runways to increase the current 750-foot separation and allow two planes to land simultaneously in bad weather. Federal law requires a 4,300-foot separation in such conditions. 

The plan has encountered heavy opposition from environmental groups who say an expansion could ruin the bay. As a result of the controversy, it could take years before the runways are built and made functional, McCarron said. 

Meanwhile, overall traffic at SFO was down 7 percent for the first five months of the year compared with a year ago, a situation blamed on the weak economy and the airport’s well-publicized shortcomings. 

Southwest Airlines, known for its on-time record, pulled out of San Francisco entirely in March, shifting most of its routes to Oakland and some to San Jose. 

One million fewer people flew into or out of SFO through May, compared with the first five months of last year. 


But the lower numbers don’t bother SFO officials who predict passenger traffic will grow in the coming decade, especially in international travel. 

“We still get 60 percent of all domestic flights and 90 percent of all international flights in the area,” McCarron said. 

The Oakland and San Jose airports, however, have seen their numbers of passengers increase by about 14 percent so far this year. 

And both airports have expansion plans in the works. 

San Jose International Airport put a 10-year expansion plan in motion last year and the City of Oakland on Wednesday approved a $1.4 billion plan, which will add 12 gates and a two-tiered terminal access road. 

The airport handles 25 more flights a day than last year and desperately needs the additions, according to airport spokeswoman Cyndy Johnson. 

About two million additional passengers are expected to go through the Oakland airport’s gates this year, she said.