S.F. airport delays on the increase

Nineteen percent of flights at San Francisco International Airport were delayed in the past year, levels not seen since the dot-com boom days of 2000 and 2001.

The percentage of delayed domestic flights increased 2 percent in the year ending March 2006 over the previous year, and 6 percent from the year ending March 2004, according to figures released Thursday by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The number of flights remained relatively stable during that time, around or just under 130,000 per year.

Tryg McCoy, deputy airport director of operations, who hadn't yet seen the BTS figures but acknowledged the delay increase at SFO, said the hold-ups are due to three main factors: the heavy winter and spring rains, the runways being too close together and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' 2003 decision to take the runway expansion project off the table, due in part to a lack ofpublic support.

SFO appears to be roughly average when compared to other airports nationwide for the number of flights delayed when considered over a period of several years, and the length of the average delay has decreased from approximately nine to five minutes in the last two years, the BTS data shows.

When flights were delayed, however, over the past few months, travelers waited longer, an average of 20 to 25 minutes as compared to 10 to 15 minutes nationwide.

Airport officials have asked for help in decreasing delays, and are currently in talks with the FAA to fund studies examining the use of new technology.

They will also present a report to the Airport Commission this summer urging the use of technology that other airports nationwide might be using.

“We've done everything we can at this point,” McCoy said. “We're working with the airlines, we're talking to the FAA, we're looking at new technology — everything.”

McCoy said new technology in place for a year and a half that allows the Federal Aviation Administration to track plane positions in real time — dubbed the Precision Runway Monitor System, or PRMS — is only authorized to be used in bad or moderately bad weather. That technology allows officials to land up to 38 planes in an hour instead of being restricted to 30.

Still, McCoy cautioned against using broad yearly numbers to make performance judgements.

“I would say that's like trying to judge global warming based on two or three years,” McCoy said. “The weather was a big factor in our delays this year, things ebb and flow with the weather. But the airport is very concerned about smart growth and working with the airlines to keep an efficient schedule.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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