Aug. 08--The two closed runways that hobbled San Francisco International Airport during the busy summer travel season will reopen at noon Sunday, about a month ahead of schedule.
The early reopening, which SFO officials announced Thursday, should reduce non-weather-related delays at the Bay Area's busiest airport.
SFO closed runways 1L and 1R -- two of its four -- on May 17 for federally mandated construction of safety zones at the ends of the takeoff and landing strips. Work was expected to last through mid-September.
Construction crews finished the work early, however, so starting Sunday SFO will have full use of all four of its runways. The airport's configuration, with two sets of crossing parallel runways, combined with the area's frequent fog and low clouds already causes delays, especially during the winter.
To reduce delays during construction, SFO worked with airlines to reduce their summer flight schedules slightly. The airport also employed a computerized system to manage and schedule departures, and made frequent use of a Federal Aviation Administration process that allows planes to use parallel runways more efficiently.
Despite those precautions, the closures caused some delays averaging 15 minutes, mostly during the peak air-traffic hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel. Weather-related delays, which average about 30 minutes, were not exacerbated by the closures, he said. But the closures did reduce the airport's capacity from about 100 flights an hour to 85.
"The ugly truth is that even after we open all four runways, there are still going to be delays caused by weather," he said. "But runway closure delays will go away Sunday."
While the two runways were closed, SFO built safety areas at their ends using blocks of crushable concrete designed to collapse and stop an aircraft before it reaches the end of the runway. The runway safety area improvements were required by the FAA at 40 airports nationwide.
According to SFO officials, the project cost $223 million, $3 million less than budgeted.
Michael Cabanatuan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @ctuan
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