Two United Airlines Hubs Plan Summer Runway Improvements

Two major US airports are planning summer runway improvements. As airlines plan a ramp-up of summer capacity, the runway improvement projects at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) will stretch over several months and require runways to be shut down. This could affect summer schedules at airports and cause delays for travelers.

United Boeing 787-10
Two United hubs, SFO and EWR, will be getting runway improvements. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Runway improvements at Newark

Last week, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) announced that it would embark on a runway improvement program. At the cost of $84.2 million, the rehabilitated runway will feature modernized electrical lighting, infrastructure enhancements, and new signage.

Runway 4R/22L at Newark is the primary landing runway at Newark, and it handles nearly 47% of the airport’s flight activity. This runway was last rehabilitated in 2012. Due to normal use-associated wear and tear, the runway shows deterioration, which is why the improvement project is necessary.

The work on this runway will take a while. The project has already begun, but it will not be completed until 2022. The PANYNJ expects the project to be complete by the end of the second quarter of 2022.

United uses Newark as its international gateway to connect travelers to the New York City metropolitan area. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The project’s scope includes the milling and repaving with asphalt of the runway surface as well as the renovation of runway shoulders and intersecting taxiways. Also, there will be a complete replacement of the electrical infrastructure and adding new light fixtures. Lastly, and what will be one of the more overt improvements would be totally new pavement and new signage across the runway.

The goal is to minimize operational impacts, so much of the work will be done at night and on weekends. However, the runway will need to undergo a full closure. That is expected to run from July 6th through October 1st, with the FAA and airlines directing flight activity to other runways during that time.

San Francisco’s longest runway will be closed

SFO will be shutting down its longest runway for four months. Beginning on April 26th, Runway 28R will be shut down for a surface layer repaving, the construction of two new taxiways, expansion of eight runway-taxiway intersections, and improve lighting infrastructure.

The project will be complete by Labor Day in September. Originally scheduled to occur in 2022, SFO has decided to accelerate its plan amid reduced flight schedules. The airport indicates that flight schedules have been reduced by roughly 50%, which will make it easier to manage the runway closure.

United Boeing 787
On the other coast, United will have to contend with the closure of SFO’s longest runway. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

SFO stated that it expects moderate delays. Most delays are expected to occur on flights scheduled between 17:00 and 20:00 PDT, which may affect both arriving and departing flights. The cost of this project is expected to be $149 million.

Two major United hubs face runway closures

For a couple of months, United Airlines will have to manage peak summertime capacity at two of its largest hubs facing runway closures. This means that the airline will need to manage its schedules accordingly and ensure its flight operations can proceed.

Runway 28R is a popular arrivals runway for large aircraft. It is complemented by 28L, which can also handle arrivals. Without two runways, the capacity crunch will be felt during peak flight hours. Meanwhile, Newark’s closure of 4R/22L will leave the airport with one north/south runway: 4L/22R.

United Airlines
United will need to work with these airports to manage their operations around the closures. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

With both Newark and San Franciso serving as largely long-haul connecting hubs for flights to Europe and Africa (from Newark) and Asia and the Pacific (from San Francisco). With current travel restrictions, United has reduced schedules in both airports. It is likely to keep those airports lagging behind other hubs to avoid straining either airport with too many arrivals or departures at a peak hour.

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One benefit for travelers at these airports could be if United chooses to upgauge more flights. If the Boeing 777s affected by the Pratt & Whitney engine groundings can get back in the air, those jets could make up for some lost capacity with fewer scheduled flights.

These events work in conjunction with airlines and airport authorities to minimize disruptions as much as possible. United is well-loved at both airports and accounts for the majority of traffic at both airports. Nevertheless, travelers at both airports this summer may experience delays.

Are you scheduled to fly through either of these airports this summer? Do you think this is a good time for both airports to complete runway improvements? Let us know in the comments!