Regional airports being eyed as congestion medication 

Smaller airports could help shift traffic from big three

S.F. AIRPORT — With plans to add a runway at San Francisco International Airport all but dead, transportation experts are studying whether new radar technology and moves to shift regional flights to smaller airports can accommodate future growth in air traffic.

The study, launched last week by a subcommittee of the Regional Airport Planning Committee, will look at whether new technology and added capacity at airports in locales such as Stockton, Monterey and the North Bay could help reduce congestion at the Bay Area’s three major airports: San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

While air passenger numberss have not returned to levels seen before Sept. 11, 2001, they continue to inch their way back up, officials said.

"In the long-run when demand gets back to where it was in 2000, and beyond, (the changes proposed in the study) will mean better on-time performance and fewer delays for passengers," said Doug Kimsey, of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Expanded runways and added hanger space at regional airports could make them ideal for flights originating in Los Angeles or other West Coast cities, significantly reducing traffic at the three major hubs, officials said. Traffic management techniques might also include higher prices passed on to passenger for traveling at peak hours, or reduced costs for airlines that limit their number of flights by using bigger airplanes, Lowe said.

"To me, the big benefit is to be able to plan future growth without having to build more runways, either in the Bay or elsewhere," said Jerry Hill, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and member of the Regional Airport Planning Committee.

In addition, new radar technology could improve landing capabilities under cloudy and windy conditions, factors that affect airports with parallel runways built close together, as is the case at SFO and San Jose. Currently, poor weather reduces the number of arrivals and departures per hour from about 103 to about 82 at SFO, and from 79 to 43 at San Jose, Kimsey said.

"It allows them to increase their landings during inclement weather conditions by better managing the airspace," Lowe said.

The Regional Airport Planning Committee — comprised of representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development District and the Association of Bay Area Governments — has approved $365,000 for the first part of a three-phase study. Another $500,000 has been earmarked for a second phase, according to Lindy Lowe, of the development district.

Phase two of the study, anticipated to begin in about a year, will focus on the prospect for High Speed Rail to have an impact on travel patterns, as well as what might be done to shift small airplane traffic and cargo carriers to regional airports, Lowe said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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