Santa Clara stadium hasn’t planned for bad weather at SJ Airport

NBC Bay Area reported last night that somehow, the City of Santa Clara hasn’t completed planning for how to make football games work in concert with operations and Mineta San Jose International Airport. The FAA has made a Determination of No Hazard for the stadium, based on building height and sufficient clearances, even though some light standards will be slightly higher than FAA mandates. However, this only works when the weather is good, and the two runways at SJC are used for takeoffs to the north and landings from the south. When the weather gets bad or fog comes in, the airport flips the script and the landing approach comes in directly over the 49ers’ stadium site. If you flew in and out of SJC during the stormy recent November and December, you probably got a good glimpse of this. I did over Thanksgiving.


Yellow line extending from Mineta San Jose International Airport’s 30R runway runs directly over 49ers stadium site (shown as a parking lot). Image from Google Earth

When bad weather forces this change, jets landing at SJC tend to loop around the West Valley (Cupertino/Mountain View) before making a 180 turn to land on 30L or 30R, the two commercial runways at the airport. During good weather, planes taking off to the north usually make a sharp easterly turn before heading east or south. Assuming that those planes are in good mechanical condition, takeoffs don’t operate that close to the stadium site. Even flights going directly north to Portland or Seattle tend to go east and loop around until they get to the right altitude before going north. It’s when planes in low altitude fly into SJC from the north that the stadium’s location becomes an issue.

Is this a big deal? Sure it is. San Jose and Mineta Airport are used to this to an extent, as the regular approach to SJC has jets constantly flying almost directly over HP Pavilion and directly over several tallish buildings in downtown. That’s what happens when the airport is built in the middle of the city. It’s convenient, but it brings its own set of issues. Comparatively, the approaches to SFO and OAK are over water, though SFO-bound planes coming from the east often turn north close to the Santa Clara stadium site. Even the Diridon ballpark site came under scrutiny because it’s close to the approach, especially the general aviation runway (non-commercial).

None of these buildings provide the kind and scale of target as the Santa Clara stadium, which on gamedays will regularly hold 70,000 including workers. This will be amped up even higher for an upcoming Super Bowl, when the number of people in the immediate area could approach 100,000.

The early rains we had this season are somewhat unusual for the Bay Area, since we’re used to getting our heaviest rain from late January through March. It just goes to show that on a seasonal and monthly basis, it can be difficult to tell what will happen. The El Niño/La Niña phenomenon can be a contributor. Months out from Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, no one was predicted the sleet and freezing rain conditions that beset the Metroplex. While early February could be great weather (mid 50’s, sunny) for Super Bowl XLIX or one of those NBC-flexed Sunday Night games, chances are high that bad weather will force a change to air traffic control. I don’t doubt that a practical plan will be developed to deal with that situation, but it’s a lot of juggling and adds an aspect of uncertainty that isn’t present at other NFL stadium sites, let alone Super Bowl sites. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that everyone’s on their P’s and Q’s when games are played during the rain or fog. A lot more than division standings or a trophy will be at stake.

13 thoughts on “Santa Clara stadium hasn’t planned for bad weather at SJ Airport

  1. Maybe I’m just missed it, but unless the stadium plans to somehow become taller when they’re playing, I’m not sure I’m seeing what the actual issue is with planes flying overhead.

  2. I’ve always thought the 49ers and Santa Clara have been dismissive of the impact of having the airport as a close neighbor of the stadium.

  3. Just my opinion, but I think flight paths or near airports are perfect areas for noise-generating sports venue’s; not so much for full-blown urban areas. (disclaimer: I hate SJC’s location smack middle of San Jose, but that’s another topic for another blog)

  4. Not a big deal really. When jets are on approach, their engines are at a quieter operating level (not full thrust). They are loud, but not nearly as loud as take off. There is a softball field that is in Guadalupe Park directly under SJC’s flight path. A person can continue a conversation as a plane flies over.

  5. High pressure systems dominate the spring and summer months here. They rotate clockwise and, as they sit up above Calif., push north wnds our way. Everything changes when storms blow in–during football season. Low pressure systems rotate counterclockwise. In California, because (obviously) storms come in off the Pacific from the west, they always bring south (mainly southwest) winds. (In NY, the ccl-wise-turning storms head in from the east, thus the famous Nor’easters.) Planes need to head into the wind to take off and land under control. This stuff isn’t rocket science. Anybody who has ever spent a year by the ocean should understand it. Kids who can rub their stomachs and pat their heads and then switch can understand it. Clearly the stadium designers and the FAA and the air traffic mavens must’ve anticipated it.

    Still, you have to wonder if problems might occur when the Niners are playing in bad weather at night. The blazing lights may not be great for approaching night-lit runways. Otherwise, who cares?

    I think Shea stadium had dozens of commercial jet planes flying overhead during Mets games.

  6. When the 49ers bid for superbowl, the southbay weather during the winter time is not so bad… i think it will help the bay area a lot… that is why i hope Oakland gets a new stadium because imagine a superbowl in the east bay.

  7. Not sure what the problem is with the stadium being located in a flight path, even close to the airport. Being a Mets fan, the planes overhead at Citi Field (and before that Shea) are just part of the experience and never have been a distraction. Citi Field is directly under a primary flight path for LaGuardia airport, which is much busier than SJC. It should be an issue that can easily be dealt with. (Cowboys Stadium is also under the flight paths for DFW airport, although a bit further away).

    As has been mentioned, it actually makes a lot of sense to place stadiums in these areas since the planes overhead are hardly a nuisance compared to flying over residential areas.

  8. About 10-15 years ago, it was proposed that KSJC redo its runways by tilting them about 4-5 degrees clockwise, turning runways 12 and 30 into roughly runways 16 and 34. It would also have allowed one of the runways to be extended out past 12,000 feet, allowing takeoff and departure of fully-fueled four-engine transcontinental aircraft. By doing this, the City of San Jose could lose the building height restriction in downtown, and the planes would take off over the research corridor on North First Street. But that plan never got off the ground because, in stormy weather, planes would take off over the Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood, and those were the folks who had bitched so high and hard about the Arena that they got the city to pass the no-vote-no-stadium law.

    Airport politics suck. I’m surprised that FAA let this stadium project go forward. The good news is that planes usually do not begin their power up for their southbound landings until they are past Montague Expressway (I’ll have to confer with a pilot friend of mine on that one to confirm), so it’ll probably just be noise in the air like it is at Shea.

  9. @SierraSpartan,
    Is that what the Airport West property was originally intended for? Realigned runways? Interesting idea. Alas, the SHP Nimbys would have none of that, and I’m not surprised. I still believe Moffett could be a future alternative to our current SJC, especially with NextGen technologies and quieter/more fuel efficient airliners on the horizon. IMHO, airports belong bayside, not smack middle of town.
    To all my fellow A’s brethren who are Niners fans, good luck to you today. As most of you know, I’m a die-hard Raiders fan, but I can’t hate: all my in-laws are Niner faithful. If my wife’s happy today, then I’m happy ;). Peace.

  10. @Tony – Neither Sunnyvale nor Mountain View would never allow it. Some folks have a big dream about moving KSJC down to the Hollister area (!), but we’re pretty much stuck with the airport as-is and where it is, and the San Jose skyline will forever be stunted because of that. I went to high school adjacent to the southbound takeoff pattern back in the day, and those 727’s would literally rattle the windows of the older buildings on rainy days. More modern aircraft are much quieter, so I don’t think noise will be much of a problem at (Big-Ass Corporate Giant Name) Stadium at Great America.

  11. @SS,
    the current crop of some Sunnyvale-Mt. View residents might not allow it, but what about 20 years out? Especially with quieter jets and NextGen technologies allowing approaches at near idle? I wouldn’t rule out Moffett just yet. An airport near Hollister or SE of Gilroy may be possible in the future, especially if we could get high-speed rail up and running south of San Jose. I’ve even thrown out an SFO consolidation idea, with two new Bay runways (bridge structures or floating) and expanded terminals to accommodate SJC traffic levels; add in electrified/enhanced Caltrain and SFO suddenly becomes more accessible to the South Bay. Just some food for thought, but yes, I agree that SJC is our reality for some time to come.

    • @Tony D – You’re not going to convince the next generation of residents in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, who are now used to very light air traffic around Moffett compared to 20-30 years ago, that a full service commercial airport is acceptable. Call them NIMBYs or not, for all they care there hasn’t been much of an airport there for decades.

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