San Jose airport starts runway construction

By Michelle R. Smith The Associated Press
Wednesday April 03, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Seven flights were diverted and others were delayed Tuesday after construction began on a major runway at San Jose’s international airport, one of three San Francisco Bay area airports renovating runways this summer. 

Twenty-three arriving flights were delayed Tuesday because of fog, according to Noelle Knell, a spokeswoman for the San Jose airport. 

Simultaneous projects at the area’s three major airports mean some passengers could be sitting on their planes longer this summer, or even finding themselves landing at a different airport. 

“This is the best time to complete this work,” said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jerry Snyder. “Just because you are going to have delays doesn’t mean you don’t do the necessary repairs and renovations.” 

In late May, a runway used mainly for private planes at Oakland International Airport will be closed for three to six weeks as it gets a new overlay. San Francisco International Airport is currently repaving its longest runway for 75 days during evenings and some weekends. 

Until Tuesday, the San Jose flights would have been able to land in the fog on runway 30 Left, which is outfitted with a system to ease such landings. But that runway was closed at midnight Monday for a six-month-long project to reconstruct the old asphalt surface with concrete. All flights will now arrive and land on the same runway. 

“People who have been on that runway may note it was a little bit of a bumpy ride, so this will improve that,” Knell said. “They’ll definitely notice the difference.” 

Knell said such diversions were infrequent, the most recent being a few months ago. Before that, a San Jose-bound flight hadn’t been diverted for at least a year. She said some of the flights Tuesday were sent to Sacramento and Oakland. One landed at San Francisco International Airport, according to spokesman Ron Wilson. 

“When you start diverting airplanes that’s pretty serious,” said Rich Burton, San Jose representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. 

Controllers had asked the FAA to put off construction at San Jose because aircraft on the runway can’t be seen from the tower. That wasn’t a problem when all arrivals landed on one runway and departures left from another, according to Burton. But he said both arrivals and departures on the same runway are difficult to manage. 

The FAA last Friday said the work could go ahead. 

“I think a lot of people will be inconvenienced by the shortsightedness of the FAA and the airport,” Burton said. 

Aviation officials called Tuesday’s diversions just part of the system used when weather closes an airport, and said more diversions could be in the cards for the summer if the weather gets bad. 

“It’s unusual for San Jose, but not unusual under the circumstances,” Snyder said. “You deal with it and manage it as best you can.” 

At San Francisco International Airport, passengers likely won’t notice that airport’s construction, Wilson said. The project is scheduled for off hours, and a taxiway is being outfitted as a runway to accommodate smaller planes. 

But Wilson said San Jose’s construction could spill over and affect San Francisco travelers, especially during the airport’s foggy and busy summer season. 

“San Jose will be prone to diverting aircraft because one runway is down,” Wilson said. “If San Jose has problems, that could mean flights are diverted to San Francisco, which could put additional burden on us, and could lead to additional delays.” 

“There’s no good time to close a runway,” Wilson said.