SFO seeks a way through the fog

The busiest airport hub in the Bay Area, rated as the worst in the nation for on-time arrivals in January, might not have to wait until 2025 to see a drastic cut in weather-related delays.

A new study by a Los Angeles-based think tank said if airlines upgrade to a new advanced navigation system called Required Navigation Performance, weather-related delays would be slashed in half at San Francisco International Airport.

The system is required for all airlines by the Federal Aviation Administration by 2025 and would allow planes to navigate more easily through fog and poor weather — the major source of delays at the airport, according to SFO spokesman Mike McCarron.

Approximately 70,000 passengers travel daily through SFO, ranking the airport as the 16th-busiest in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Domestic airlines have been slow to switch to the advancednavigation system, according to the study by the Reason Foundation.

The system — a combination of training and advanced equipment such as improved GPS technology — allows aircraft to navigate the fastest route to their destinations in low clouds and foggy conditions, which McCarron said often cut the number of hourly SFO flights from 60 to 30.

SFO officials are meeting next month with representatives from the FAA, airlines and manufacturers that make the equipment to discuss the benefits of installing the technology, McCarron said. He said that because the technology would allow aircraft to land at a normal pace in lousy weather conditions, the airport will try to persuade airlines to install the new equipment.

The new system is costly, however. Southwest Airlines is one of just a few airlines that has made a commitment to the new gear, airline officials said.

Southwest expects to spend $125 million in the next six years and will start flying planes with the technology by the end of the year, spokeswoman Ashley Rogers said.

But Viggo Butler, the author of the study, said aircraft will save gas by flying more direct routes by consistently landing and departing on time, he said.

Virgin America, JetBlue and SFO’s largest carrier, United Airlines, have expressed interest in purchasing the new equipment before the 2025 deadline, McCarron said.

Alaska Airlines was the first U.S. carrier to implement the system and expects to have the equipment installed in all its planes by the end of the year, spokeswoman Amanda Tobinbielawski said.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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