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SFO runway renovation ends eight days early

Reconstruction of critical runway turns out to be less extensive than anticipated

Two planes taking off from the San Francisco International Airport, with a tower visible between them.
San Francisco International Airport.
Photo via Shutterstock

The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) announced Wednesday that, unexpectedly, its renovation of a key runway intersection will finish more than a week ahead of schedule. The runway will return to regular use by 9 p.m. Thursday, September 19.

That’s great news for SFO flyers, who experienced mass delays and flight cancellations ever since runway 28L went down earlier this month for repairs that were supposed to last through September 27.

“Crews have completed the installation of a new base layer and are repaving and repainting the surface layer of the runway,” SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel said in a public announcement.

The original closure schedule erred on the side of caution, since the asphalt layer SFO replaced dated to the 1960s and “the project team built time into the schedule to allow for unknown conditions below the base layer,” which would have demanded more elaborate repairs.

But the runway renovation failed to unearth any additional problems, so everything wrapped up ahead of schedule.

SFO warned in March that the repaving project would cause delays and again in August, but the actual results of taking runway 28L (which 68 percent of SFO flights utilize) out of action for nearly two weeks turned out to be particularly dire.

In the first weekend alone, the airport saw 606 flights delayed and 247 flights canceled.

Although the runway upgrade ends tonight, those flying in and out of San Francisco should still anticipate delays and cancellations throughout the day until 9 p.m.

Thursday morning, the FAA’s Airport Status Information site indicates only mild “airborne delays of 15 minutes or less” at SFO, but delays will become longer and more widespread as the day continues and a larger volume of flights that would have relied on the still-closed runway intersection become affected.

The repaving job was to repair “fatigue cracking” created by the constant stress of jets taking off and landing, which, over the years, causes the asphalt cracks to join together, “forming many-sided, sharp-angled pieces” that can be dangerous.