Northeast airspace fix to give SFO a lift

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San Francisco International Airport stands to benefit from a federal decision to reconfigure the heavily congested airspace in New York — the point of origin for most of SFO’s inbound delays — and Philadelphia.

The Federal Aviation Administration made a final decision late last week, after years of discussion, to redesign the New York, New Jersey — both part of the same airport jurisdiction — and Philadelphia airspace. The clogged airline hubs often cause across-the-board delays.

In some cases, the congestion has put hours-long dents in travel itineraries. Figures released by the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics last month found that of 21 SFO-bound flights that left passengers stranded for three to four hours in June, all but three were from one of the Big Apple’s three anchor airports — John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia International.

There are currently layers of airspace meant for different types of aircraft. By retooling these layers and integrating them more, FAA officials say they will create more efficient arrival and departure routes.

The FAA estimates the changes will cause 20 percent fewer delays in the air traffic system by 2011.

After Los Angeles, SFO’s most popular domestic destination is the New York metropolitan area, which sees nearly 9 percent of all its domestic traffic, according to airport figures. Though SFO officials could not be reached for comment, they have said in the past that any measures to avoid delays into and out of San Francisco would be a welcome change.

All of the major airlines, represented by a trade organization dubbed the Air Transport Association, have repeatedly pointed the finger at outdated air traffic control systems as the reason for hours-long delays or cancellations. They applauded the FAA’s most recent decision to retool the East Coast airspace, adding that the congestion still highlights a need for next-generation, satellite-based air traffic control.

“The long-awaited program is a much-needed first step to relieve unprecedented congestion in the Northeast and to maintain high standards of safety,” ATA president and CEO James May said.

According to a separate set of figures and projections, Bay Area airports will go the way of New York if the local and federal governments don’t team up to ease congestion by, among other methods, diverting regional jets to smaller airports in the state. There are currently no plans to redesign airspace in the Bay Area as is being done on the East Coast.

tramroop@examiner.com

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