Mexico's Backing Sought on U.S. Link to Tijuana Airport

What if an air traveler could drive to a terminal in Otay Mesa, walk onto a jet that taxis across the border, then take off on a flight from Tijuana International Airport?

It's the most audacious of four concepts for a tie-in to the Tijuana airport -- a mere walkway from one side of the border to the other is another scenario -- and the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is willing to spend $385,000 to continue studying the notions.

But to keep the idea alive, the agency's board of directors said yesterday it needs some sign from Mexico that it won't become an exercise in futility.

The idea of a cross-border connection to Tijuana's airport faces so many political, legal and regulatory hurdles that board members said they want at least a letter of interest from the federal government in Mexico before they sink any money into a full-blown market demand study.

Because Mexico City ultimately would have to approve any project, there should be "a concrete demonstration of significant interest at the federal level," board chairman Alan Bersin said.

The South County Economic Development Council has been evaluating the cross-border connection for about 15 years. Advocates say it could relieve pressure on Lindbergh Field and make air travel more convenient for the booming South County population. Consultants estimate about 10 percent of the Tijuana airport's 3.5 million annual passengers are U.S. residents.

The market demand study would attempt to determine who would use the connection if it were available and the potential growth in travel that might result. The study would take the idea further than before.

No similar cross-border air facility exists anywhere in North America.

The discussion came as the board received a consultants' study that identified numerous issues that would have to be addressed in any such project, but concluded there were no "insurmountable obstacles."

A simple pedestrian bridge from a parking lot in Otay Mesa is one idea. Another calls for a terminal on the U.S. side with ticket counters, check-in and baggage facilities. The most elaborate would allow commercial carriers to pull up to gates in U.S. territory.

The most generous estimates see the process taking at least 10 years.

Enrique Valle Alvarez, director of the private company that operates Tijuana International Airport, told the authority board "we are very interested" and that the airfield could handle a major uptick in operations.

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