I learned to fly out of Republic Airport (KFRG) on Long Island. It’s a pretty busy general aviation airport with a control tower. Since getting into dispatch, I’m learning a lot more about major airports and how they function. Recently, our class got to visit the SFO tower and get to understand the traffic flow.
When I was learning to fly, I noticed we took off runway 1 a lot, but it wasn’t rare to takeoff from 19 or even 32 (14 was rare though). Major airports love to keep the same pattern for their runway usage.
KSFO has 4 runways, 2 sets of parallel runways. The way SFO works is that airplanes land on the 28s and takeoff on the 1s, unless it’s a 747 or A380 then they’ll take off the 28s. Aircraft can request to takeoff the 28s if it helps better with their route, but it’s not always accepted.
Here are the problems with SFO that normally ends the airport in GDPs (Ground Delay Programs
- The airport is just too small!
They try to land as simultaneously as possible on the 28s to have the most traffic volume. When it’s a clear day, it’s possible. Aircraft have to see one another for the approach since the runways are so close together. 750 feet to be exact between centerlines.
750ft pose a problem during IMC though. That takes away landing simultaneous, and cuts down the volume the airport can take in half. A minimum of 1000ft is needed for them to land together in IMC. Technology isn’t there yet otherwise.
2. Winds can be an issue
They will take off the 1s as long as possible. Once the crosswind component exceeds 25kts, they switch to the 28s for take offs and landings. Then the volume of traffic that can land goes down and holding and GDPs happens.
3. Noise abatement
Landing on the 1s is near impossible due to noise batement in surrounding cities of the airport. If you don’t like the sound of an airport, don’t live near an airport. I personally enjoy the fact a shadow of an A380 can cross my living room!
4. You’re gonna have a bad time…
If they’re landing the 19s, you’re gonna have a bad time in the dispatch office. With Oakland and San Jose also using the Bay Area airspace, it becomes crowded very quickly! Almost as bad as when JFK is in ILS 13 configuration for New York airspace.