San Francisco International Airport Runways Reopen After Repair of 12-Inch Pothole

Two of San Francisco International Airport's four runways were closed for multiple hours Thursday after crews found a foot-deep depression in one of them, airport officials said.

The closure resulted in at least 300 flights being delayed, airport officials said.

The pothole, which was initially described as a "12-inch pavement depression," was found on runway 28L near the intersection with runway 1R during an inspection early Thursday morning, according to SFO spokesman Doug Yakel.

"Over two-thirds of all of the aircraft that operate at SFO use that particular intersection," Yakel said. 

A pothole discovered at San Francisco International Airport Thursday morning forced the airport to close two runways.

In raw numbers, that means more than 800 jets use the intersection daily, and by the early afternoon, hundreds of flights were delayed, on average, more than an hour.

But some were delayed much longer. Jenisa Jumawan sat with her family in Seattle watching their visit to the Bay Area get pushed back further and further.

"So, we were just standing their waiting, and, like, getting confused," Jumawan told NBC Bay Area. 

Antonio Drolapas said the delay meant he would arrive for his 40th birthday celebration in Las Vegas a couple hours late.

"Two hours, unbelievable," Drolapas said. "It was supposed to leave at 2:30, and now it's moved to 4:30."

"They said they’re going to put me on an Uber with some people I don't know, and they’re going to take us down to the San Jose airport," Tony Lioci of Berkeley said.

Both runways were initially closed so crews could fix the pothole. Runway 1R reopened around 12:20 p.m. Runway 28L reopened around 2:30 p.m.

"There's a snowball effect that goes on throughout the day, so the quicker they can get it open — the quicker they can minimize that snowball," NBC Bay Area aviation analyst Mike McCarron said.

The next time your flight is delayed at San Francisco International Airport, you might have something besides the weather or maintenance problems to blame. It could be what scientists call "subsidence." In simple terms, SFO is sinking. Senior investigative reporter Stephen Stock reports on a story that first aired Feb. 18, 2019.

Crews were able to get fresh asphalt quickly for the repairs, and the cooler temperatures helped the new pavement set faster than it would on a hot day.

The airport plans to replace crumbling concrete under the impacted section of runway in September and hopes the work will help avoid chronic delay problems.

Earlier this year, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit reported that SFO is sinking.

Built on landfill, the unsettled ground beneath SFO has long created problems for the airport operations staff. But with an increase in runway traffic over the last decade, the surface cracks caused by subsidence are creating a problem for travelers forced to endure flight delays, according to aviation sources and records reviewed by the Investigative Unit.

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