News Release

Study: New Technology Can Reduce Delays at SFO

Doubling the bad weather capacity of San Francisco International Airport

Los Angeles (March 4, 2008) – San Francisco International Airport could safely operate simultaneous approaches to its parallel runways in low visibility conditions, reducing delays and nearly doubling the airport’s bad weather capacity, according to a new study by the Reason Foundation.

“Recent research has shown that the combination of GPS technology and advanced cockpit displays would permit SFO’s parallel runways to operate safely in low visibility conditions, with nearly the same throughput as in clear weather. That would dramatically reduce delays at this key airport,” said Robert Poole, an adviser to the last four presidential administrations and director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation. “We have the technology to do this and it is time to implement it. Current limitations on flight paths and closely spaced runways stem from obsolete 20th-century technology. New technologies will make it quite safe to operate closely spaced parallel runways in reduced visibility conditions.”

The Reason Foundation report highlights numerous technological improvements expected to be implemented as part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen efforts, which will completely revamp the nation’s air traffic control system over the next two decades. One of these technologies, Required Navigation Performance, uses global positioning systems and flight management computers to program routes that allow planes to make very precise turns and altitude adjustments, even under poor visibility and bad weather conditions. Full implementation of Required Navigation Performance would increase runway throughput at San Francisco International Airport by more than 50 percent. Increases in runway capacity will also be possible at Oakland and San Jose airports.

With so much attention focused on temporary solutions to today’s debilitating air travel delays, the long-term capacity problems at the nation’s major airports are being ignored, Poole said.

Air travel is expected to increase 64 percent between 2005 and 2020. By 2015, U.S. airports are expected to handle one billion passengers a year. And by 2025, eight of the country’s largest metro areas – Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Francisco – will need more airport capacity than their current runways can provide.

The Reason Foundation study reveals a number of ways to expand capacity at the existing airports in these cities without increasing their physical size, thereby avoiding costly and prolonged battles over condemning land (or filling in adjacent wetlands) and mitigating noise impacts. The report also details how the NextGen air traffic system can increase arrival and departure rates, reduce weather delays, and decrease noise and environmental impacts.

“It’s important for the Bay Area to start planning to expand its airport capacity based on what these new technologies will permit, looking forward rather than backward,” said Viggo Butler, former president of Lockheed Air Terminal and author of the Reason Foundation report. “That will allow San Francisco and other growing areas to reap the economic benefits that come with continued growth in air service – without the protracted battles over land acquisition and environmental impacts that would occur if the airports could only expand capacity by adding large amounts of land area.”

Full Report Online

The full study, Increasing Airport Capacity Without Increasing Airport Size, is available online at:

Reason Foundation’s airport-related research and commentary is here:

About Reason

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. For more information, please visit


Viggo Butler, Study Author, Reason Foundation, (818) 360-6609
Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Studies, Reason Foundation, (310) 292-2386
Chris Mitchell, Director of Media Relations, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109