A new parking hub designed to accommodate Uber and Lyft dropoffs and pickups and a centralized security checkpoint in San Francisco International Airport’s international terminal are among the projects the major transportation hub is eyeing as it prepares to accommodate some 71 million passengers annually 12 years from now.
The seventh busiest airport in the United States, SFO is in the midst of shaping a new development plan, which Doug Yakel, the airport’s public information officer, explained will help airport officials weigh improvement projects needed to help its facilities keep pace with the growing number of travelers passing through it.
In providing an update to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Yakel noted the airport employing 43,000 people and generating more than $8.4 billion in annual revenue is set to benefit from several large projects included in a previous master plan for the airport. Including the 350-room Grand Hyatt at SFO set to open at the end of the summer and a long-term parking garage providing 3,500 additional parking spaces at the airport, several projects included in the airport’s 1989 master plan have been taking shape in the years since it was approved, said Yakel.
Though the airport currently has no plans in place to expand the number of runways at SFO beyond the four the airport has today, Yakel said officials are predicting the airport that served nearly 58 million annual passengers in 2018 will reach its maximum capacity of 71 million annual passengers in about 12 years.
“Eventually we’ll reach a point where those runways will constrain the level of activity we can serve,” he said, according to a video of the meeting. “This airport development plan is really designed to maintain an acceptable level of facilities as we ramp up to that maximum number of passengers our airport can serve.”
Acknowledging the plan does not include any changes to runway configurations or an expansion of the airport, Yakel said it will include potential projects to improve parking, support facilities and its heating and cooling systems. Creating a centralized security checkpoint in the airport’s international terminal so travelers can move from concourse to concourse without having to go through security again is among the changes Yakel expected would be an upgrade for passengers and also afford airlines greater flexibility in the gates they use.
A project to replace a 40-year-old, multi-level parking garage currently standing in the center of the airport with a mixed-use facility serving as a hub for commercial pickups and dropoffs is expected to help the airport respond to the increasing use of ride-hailing companies at SFO, said Yakel.
He said officials are hoping to have a draft environmental impact report on the plan by the end of the year and adopt a final report by mid-2020, and added projects would only break ground as needed as the airport reaches its capacity.
For Supervisor Don Horsley, how the airport would account for the noise to accompany the uptick of expected use was a priority.
“I know it’s difficult, I understand that newer planes are being made in a way that they produce less noise,” he said. “But on the other hand, changing over that fleet is really expensive.”
Yakel said airport officials have been in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration to consider distributing flight routes across a wider swath of air space, noting the FAA’s shift toward more precise routes in recent years has concentrated the noise above residents living under them. He added the airport is also planning to work with an estimated 300 eligible residents to insulate their homes and has been working on an effort to develop new landing technology routing planes offshore or at higher elevations as they descend for landing.
Maximum capacity, regional coordination
In response to Supervisor Dave Pine’s question about how the number of flights would be affected by more passengers, Yakel noted the airport will continue encouraging airlines to use larger aircraft and avoid increasing the number of flights coming in and out. Though the average aircraft used at SFO holds 158 seats, Yakel said officials are estimating the average aircraft will hold some 170 seats by the time the airport reaches capacity. He added the airport currently serves some 1,250 flights daily and the maximum number of flights that can be accommodated on SFO’s four runways daily is estimated at 1,500.
Pine also asked Yakel what might happen when the airport reaches maximum capacity, and Yakel said the airport has started conversations with officials at Oakland and San Jose international airports to scope the possibility of coordinating on the types of flights they serve. He said the three Bay Area airports could consider an arrangement used by other metropolitan areas served by multiple airports whereby one specializes in cross-continental and cross-country flights and others make regional trips.
Pine voiced support for the three airports in the region to coordinate as travel ramps up at SFO, and also encouraged airport officials to engage the community as they scope new projects.
“It’s hard to envision expanding these airports or building a fourth airport,” he said. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to be able to accommodate things in the long term.”
In other business: County officials also voted unanimously to approve reduced fines for fines for those found to violate rules for dog access at San Mateo County parks. Previously set at a $100 base fine for a first violation within a one-year period and a $200 base fine for a second violation within the same time period, the fines previously in place were associated with an additional $385 and $695 in fees, respectively. Under the new fine schedule, someone found to have violated one of the rules would be responsible for a base fine of $5 for a first violation and a $30 base fine for a second violation and would have to pay a total of $110 and $198, respectively, including fees.
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