San Diego Airport Board Asks for New Ideas

Apr. 4--SAN DIEGO ---- With time running short to come up with a plan for handling San Diego County's long-term air travel needs, the airport authority is trying to break new ground in its search for a place to build an international airport with twin, 12,000-foot runways.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board voted 6-3 Monday to ask a consultant to find the best place for an airport on Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, in the event the 23,000-acre base in the heart of metro San Diego should become available

The federal government just finished going through a round of base closures and changes round last year, and no additional rounds have been scheduled for the near future.

Board members Mary Sessom, Xema Jacobson and Oceanside's Bob Maxwell voted against the motion.

Navy and Marine officials have continually stressed that no base in San Diego County is available or will become available in the future, and that any sharing of military runways would seriously jeopardize the safety and integrity of their pilot training operations.

The authority also asked the consultant to come up with suggestions for putting a commercial airport on a base and helping Marines cope with the impact on training operations ---- possibly by building a new air strip for the military.

"The board directed us to come up with other ideas," said Diana Lucero, authority spokeswoman.

Lucero said the consultant, which was awarded a $13.5 million contract to study sites for the airport authority, will present ideas to the board in May.

That is when the board hopes to make a decision on an airport plan that will be placed on the November county ballot as an advisory measure. The agency is studying whether to expand Lindbergh Field, the nation's busiest one-runway commercial airfield and 20th busiest overall, or to build a new two-runway airport elsewhere.

The agency contends the region needs a new airport or a bigger Lindbergh Field to accommodate soaring airline traffic that surpassed 17 million passengers last year and is forecast to reach 26 million to 33 million by 2030.

The airport authority maintains that, as early as 2015, airline passenger growth will push annual takeoffs and landings past 260,000, triggering lengthy delays and spikes in ticket prices.

Not everyone agrees with the doomsday outlook. A UC San Diego professor notes that total takeoffs and landings have remained flat at just above the 200,000 level for more than a decade, and he contends that creative thinking could wring more capacity out of Lindbergh's existing runway.

A little creative thinking is what the board is asking its aviation consultant, Chicago-based Ricondo & Associates, to do. The consulting firm has studied terminal and runway needs for agencies that operate airports in San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Houston, several Florida cities, and others.

In case Miramar should become available, board members said they would like to know the best place on the military property to put an airport. So far, the firm has focused on a joint-use option that would utilize Miramar's existing south runway in conjunction with a new runway.

Consultants also have outlined a joint-use concept for Camp Pendleton. It would entail building an entirely new, two-runway airport two miles east of Interstate 5 and a mile and a half north of Highway 76, near Oceanside.

Consultants offered an "out of the box" idea that would build a runway for the Marines' exclusive use on Pendleton, in exchange for a green light to use Miramar's existing airfield exclusive for commercial travel. The board asked consultants to explore that and similar concepts that could be mutually beneficial for the military and region.

Other sites under study include Naval Air Station North Island, Imperial County and Campo.