Lindbergh Field Looks into Greener Operations

Among the initiatives, aircraft tractors and other tarmac vehicles are targeted for eventual replacement under the air-quality plan.


Dec. 26--After nearly two years of arm-twisting by the state Attorney General's Office, Lindbergh Field has set its sights on bluer skies.

Airport officials early next year will launch a series of initiatives to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from aircraft, shuttle buses and other vehicles that regularly pass through the Harbor Drive airfield.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority drafted the plan at the behest of Attorney General Jerry Brown and his staff, which had threatened to sue unless the authority developed a clean-air strategy.

Authority executives say the measures were in the works anyway, and they have no projection of what the costs might be.

The plan includes replacing shuttle buses with electric or alternative fuel vehicles, using the latest energy-efficient technology in airport construction and reducing the movement of planes on the ground.

Experts say airports represent a last frontier for a state government that has moved to cut emissions on roads, at ports and at other major public places.

"Airports are still in many ways an unexplored area when it comes to air quality," said Martin Schlageter, director of the Coalition for Clean Air, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.

The idea of a comprehensive air-quality plan surfaced in 2008 as the airport authority prepared to move ahead with a $1 billion expansion that will add 10 boarding gates, passenger drop-off points and boost airline parking. Major construction will begin in late spring, with completion expected by early 2013.

When state officials learned of the Lindbergh expansion, they saw it as an opening to pursue California's goal of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, as mandated by state law.

"We have to go after every feasible source to get those reductions," said Susan L. Durbin, a deputy attorney general.

She helped negotiate an agreement that requires the airport in the coming years to:

--Provide plug-in electrical power at boarding gates so pilots can limit their engine use. Many jets run on their own juice while parked, burning fuel and spewing pollutants in the process.

The plug-in option will be included in the 10 new gates planned for Terminal 2, on the west side of the airport. Existing gates will be upgraded over the next few years to include the option.

--Replace gas-powered shuttle buses with those that run on electricity or some form of alternative fuel. A recent authority study said 1,100 shuttles make regular runs to the airport, including hotel vans and rental-car buses.

The authority is looking at offering financial incentives, including waiving or reducing operating fees, to encourage private shuttle operators to invest in new vehicles.

The agency's board is expected to consider the issue at a Jan. 7 meeting. Some board members have raised the idea of including taxis in the incentive program.

Aircraft tractors and other tarmac vehicles are also targeted for eventual replacement under the air-quality plan.

--Aim for a 20 percent reduction in on-the-ground aircraft emissions by 2015.

Airport officials say the addition of plug-in power and the new gates will help with this goal. Airline pilots will also be encouraged to taxi with only one engine running when practical.

Airlines are already trying to reduce ground movement in an attempt to save fuel and lower costs. In addition, the next generation of commercial aircraft will emit fewer pollutants.

Lindbergh will measure the ground-based emissions each year to make sure it can meet the 20 percent target.

--Include the latest energy-efficient technology in the terminal expansion.

The authority will incorporate several eco-friendly measures in the expansion, including a reflective roof to lower energy use.

Durbin considers the entire air-quality plan at Lindbergh a template for other airports in the state.

"The airport is doing some innovative stuff," she said.

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