The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has published some thoughts about its city’s air transportation future. The editors carefully recite the dollars and cents of the possible short/mid term options. Even more perspicaciously, the journalists repeatedly, in the headline and in the concluding sentence, raise the telling question of where should the airport of the future be located and or when the dialogue should begin; they conclude:
“Given the time it would take to put such a mammoth project together, it is not too early to start a more public discussion.”
A vibrant airport is a critical node in the national and international economies. There are many studies of the financial value of SAN to the community as there are similarly impressive numbers for other airfields. Without direct links to the world’s business and cultural activities, San Diego’s ability to maintain its present status in global commerce will be diminished. To fail to plan NOW to a long term aviation facility will likely eliminate the best options.
Why now and what needs to be done soon?
All of the airports which have been built in the last 50 years have occupied major land masses. Here are three US examples of the space occupied by green fields:
IAD 1962 11,830 acres 18.48 square miles
DFW 1974 17,207 acres 26.9 square miles
DEN 1995 34,000 acres 54.05 square miles
The likelihood, that a parcel of land in the San Diego region of roughly the same size can be found, diminishes over time. Plus the description of the site MUST include good links to ground transportation (highways and particularly some form of mass transit) to the population. Obviously, this site cannot be near existing (and planned?) residential areas.
Those realities MANDATE that the land needed to build an airport must be reserved soon or there will be no viable candidate in the very near future.
Another element of the future planning should include airspace/air traffic control considerations. Southern California has a very high level of flights (commercial, military and GA) and the current FAA effort to redesign the routes to capture the advantages of NextGen have been contentious, to say the least. Fitting a new airport within the existing ATC architecture will require considerable expertise about the airspace, other airports and ground considerations.
The balancing of safety, efficiency and the environment is difficult with existing ground considerations. A future airspace design for a new airport, like SAN of 2035, has the benefit of optimal siting (i.e. without residences surrounding the runways) but has to forecast where future houses will be built and where the departure/arrival/transitory/upper altitude air traffic routes will be located. That said, these projections are well advised or the 2035 site selection may be myopically chosen.
San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, you have articulated great initiative which hopefully will have continuous momentum. If smart planning does not start NOW, the San Diegans of 2035 will look back to 2015 and say that the failure to move this project messed up the future.