SFO to add new runway safety features

A $6.9 million runway project, expected to start early in 2007, will provide extra insurance if something goes wrong during an airplane landing.

The San Francisco Airport Commission on Tuesday approved the project, which includes paving over some grass and a drainage ditch at the end of one runway to create a 1,000-foot-long safety area similar to a shoulder on the side of the freeway, airport spokesman Mike McCarron said.

The designated runway safety area, designed to allow extra room for a plane to stop if something goes wrong, will be the first one to be completed at SFO, McCarron said.

The runway, one of four at the airport, will remain just over 7,000 feet long, McCarron said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said his agency identified runway safety improvements as a priority in 2000 and plans to hand out grants to help commercial airports nationwide implement these features on their runways. The agency hopes all commercial airports will install new safety features by 2015.

Though Commissioner Larry Mazzola expressed concern about Proven Management, Inc. being the only bidder who sought to complete the project, airport chief engineer Ernie Eavis said it was imperative SFO use the FAA grant funds as soon as possible.

“It’s kind of a use-it-or-lose-it situation,” McCarron said, noting that the grant covered 75 percent of the project costs.

Ideally, each runway would have a safety area measuring approximately 1,000 feet long by 500 feet wide, Gregor said, but geographical or design constraints often make this tough to accomplish. At SFO, the proximity of The Bay is the airport’s biggest geographical barrier.

A common option for safety at airports nationwide involves reducing the length of useable runway so that planes can fly with lighter loads and they can take off and land with less runway space, Gregor said.

“We want airports to have runway safety areas that are as large as practicable, but they have to be feasible given various constraints,” he said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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