Weekend runway closures at SFO will trigger delays

A major project, thought to have been completed in 2017, will result in the closure of runways at San Francisco International Airport for repairs initially thought unnecessary. 

At any given time, two of the airport's four runways could be out of commission which could result in a serious reduction in capacity. 

SFO's west-facing Runway 28L, at 11,381 feet, is one of its two longest strips. The runway is closed for three weeks starting at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday. It's not for an expected 8 to 10-year repaving project, but for a three-week replacement of almost 2,000 feet of its base layer. 

"What's different about this is we're talking about a layer that's probably been there for about 50 to 60 years," said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel. "It's been continually paved with additional surface layers, but what's happening is that base layer is starting to fail." 

Some of the biggest jets that take off can weigh up to 500 tons. If they have a takeoff emergency and they have to go around and dump some fuel, still they'll be landing at a weight of about 350 tons, an enormous amount of weight for a runway. 

It's a doubly huge job because it's right at the intersection where all four of SFO's runways intersect; the most heavily used pavement on the airfield. 

"During this work, we're actually going to be incrementally closing each of those intersections," Yakel said. 

With half the runways out of service, delays are inevitable, even in this slower travel season. 

"We're expecting delays to run anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes on average. But some delays could get as high as two hours," Yakel explained. 

Travelers are advised to plan extra time for their flight or consider flying out during non-peak hours. 

"Airlines and private aircraft operators have reduced their schedules to the tune of about 13 percent during this closure," said Yakel.

Roadways will also be an issue with as many as 600 trucks operating in a 24 hour period at the peak of construction activities, which means heavy traffic and closed lanes.