San Francisco's Control Tower Seismically Unsound

THE air traffic control tower at San Francisco International Airport has to come down.

According to SFO Director John Martin, the 196-foot-tall tower is seismically unsound and must be replaced.

Speaking in Burlingame, Martin said the tower, built in the mid-1980s, would not hold up well during a major earthquake.

He said the problem would not be a total collapse of the vital structure, located within the vacant Central Terminal. "But it could be out of commission in the aftermath," he explained during a talk at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Its uncertain status under those circumstances has made its replacement mandatory within five years, he said.

The timetable for dealing with that task will almost certainly coincide with decisions relating to the Central Terminal itself.

The former international terminal, which has 14 gates and has been shut down for more than seven years, is scheduled to be renovated or razed and rebuilt.

San Francisco's airport authorities are examining options and potential costs. The analysis and conclusions are expected soon.

The eventual construction work is anticipated to be finished within that five-year window, Martin offered.

Whether the tower will be rebuilt on the same site or elsewhere on the sprawling SFO property has not been determined, he added. That is being discussed with federal aviation officials.

In other matters, Martin stated that:

- When the Central Terminal is re-opened, it could become home to flight schedules for some of the domestic carriers preparing to use SFO in the near future. Those would include the likes of Jet Blue, Southwest and Virgin America.

- Any talk of adding new runways at SFO is off the table. Costs to the airlines would be prohibitive. Martin did not mention intense previous opposition from local environmental and community groups.

- To ease air traffic pressure at SFO, increasing cooperation and coordination among Bay Area airports is critical.

- About 30 percent of SFO's daily flights are flown by small commuter planes. A commuter aircraft eats up as much SFO capacity as a jumbo jet with far more passengers.

- A registered traveler program, which involves athorough vetting and a biometric card (for a $100 fee) allowing a passenger easier and quicker access, will be implemented here soon.

- The arrival of the Airbus 380, the largest passenger jet in the skies, is not anticipated for perhaps 18 months. But SFO is prepared for the giant craft. Only six to eight of them per day would use SFO within five years.

FUTURE HOTEL -- In a separate but related matter, discussions about the possibility of building a hotel on SFO land are ongoing. For decades, a Hilton Hotel was just off Highway 101 near the main entrance to the airport. But it was demolished to make way for construction of new overpasses and infrastructure in the 1990s. San Mateo County received tax revenue from the Hilton.

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