SFO runways to be lengthened for safety

San Francisco International Airport will extend its runways next year to meet federal standards designed to reduce dangerous landings and airport collisions.

“Basically, it’s to have an overrun at the end of the runway,” SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said. “It’s just complying with a new regulation.”

A 2005 federal law required older airports to extend their runway-safety areas — the buffer zones around runways — to meet Federal Aviation Administration guidelines that date to the 1980s.

According to the FAA, 78 percent of runway-safety areas identified as “high priority” in 2000 had been improved by 2009. During that time, the number of serious runway incursions — when collisions were narrowly avoided — dropped from 67 to two.

But FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said some large airports have yet to act.

“A number of major commercial airports all over the country don’t have standard runway-safety areas,” he said.

Among the airports with at least one nonstandard runway-safety area are Oakland and Los Angeles, he said.

SFO released its construction plan late last month. McCarron said construction would likely start next year and must be completed by 2015.

The plan involves not only extending the pavement on the airport’s four runways, but constructing beds of porous concrete at the ends. If a plane were to overshoot a runway, the concrete would be crushed, absorbing the plane’s energy and bringing it to a stop.

McCarron said the construction would not delay air travelers because runways would remain open.

“It should have a minimal impact, if any,” he said.

Although the airport’s four runways abut San Francisco Bay, McCarron said the proposed construction will not extend into the water.

Will Travis, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, said his agency, one of several that will have to approve the airport’s plan, was pleased with the proposal.

“They looked at a couple options and this is a good one,” he said. “SFO is very sensitive to environmental issues.”

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

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