Keeping the Bay Beautiful
By Richard Rowe
San Francisco International Airport has made a top down corporate commitment to develop a truly green airport. Richard Rowe discovers an approach that includes much more than just ground support equipment.
Acutely aware of its environmental obligations to the stunning Bay Area that it serves, and with the whiff of external funding in the air, San Francisco International Airport has set its sights firmly on becoming an environmental showcase for the West Coast.
Developments at the recently opened new international terminal building (see GSE Today, February 2001)--where all gates come fully equipped with 400 Hz power and pre-conditioned air--represent just the latest and most visible sign of the airport’s commitment to ramping up its environmental programs.
In September 1998, San Francisco formed its Green Airport Committee to identify specific environmental initiatives and explore the development of new, green programs. Subcommittees were subsequently formed to focus on air quality measures, recycling programs, and green building practices.
Of the three, the air quality measures will, perhaps, most impact the airport’s ground support community. However, such is the scope of San Francisco’s air quality improvement initiatives that, in time, they will cover not only every engine-operated vehicle on the ramp, but also every hotel shuttle that picks up or drops off a passenger at any of the terminal buildings.
The air quality improvement drive has three distinct prongs. First, there is the introduction of a Clean Vehicle Policy to ensure a 100 percent clean landside vehicle fleet by 2013. Second, the plan encourages the conversion of GSE to alternative fuel vehicles (albeit with a more flexible time scale). Finally, the program calls for the development of an Air Quality Improvement Plan (AQIP) to establish an accurate emissions baseline.
San Francisco is also working closely with its airport peers and outside agencies, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Los Angeles, plus Dallas/Fort Worth and Orlando Airports, and the Clean Airport Partnership.
San Francisco is by no means a heavily polluted airport, or city. By and large, air quality in the Bay Area is good, although ozone, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter are three pollutants for which the area does not yet meet air quality standards. The Bay Area is also helped by the cool winds that blow in off the Pacific. It is a natural air conditioning that keeps the Bay relatively free from many contaminants.
Much has already been accomplished at the airport. Back in 1997, more than 11 percent of GSE at the airport was fueled by alternative fuel sources (propane at 6 percent, electric at 4.8 percent, and CNG at 0.5 percent). This impetus is largely down to dominant carrier, United Airlines, which has been exploring electric vehicles, in particular, for the past decade.
Of its GSE fleet of 760 units, United currently operates 124 electric vehicles at the airport. United has further committed to converting almost all of its San Francisco based baggage tractors and belt loaders to electric by 2008. This means that most of United’s current GSE emissions will be eliminated--an important step considering that United accounts for about half of all aircraft movements at the airport.
Today, all gates at the new international terminal, as well as all those leased by United and Delta, are equipped with both pre-conditioned air and 400 Hz power (over two thirds of the airport in total). The airport is currently studying the feasibility of pre-conditioned air at the Central Terminal and the remaining South Terminal gates.
Meanwhile, tractor pushback is mandatory, and the airport could soon prohibit aircraft from running auxiliary power units for more than 30 minutes. Meanwhile, planned runway extensions will reduce the use of high polluting reverse engine thrust during aircraft braking.
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