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.
To date, the airline community has driven airside initiatives, while the airport has concentrated more on the landside environment--where it has excelled at leveraging external funding. For four years, the airport has been granted Air District vehicle registration fee funding for the incremental cost of CNG vehicle acquisitions, mainly for commercial passenger operators. Currently, some 125 buses, courtesy shuttles, vans and cars have been funded through this program, and the airport says it plans to continue requesting such funding.
In June 1999, an on airport CNG fueling station opened for landside transportation needs. This was joined later by two, electric vehicle charging stations for private motorists. The airport’s facilities department is also committed to acquiring clean vehicles for the airport’s own fleet--the San Francisco Board of Supervisors directed the airport to spend US$800,000 of airport revenues on clean vehicles in 2000-2001. Some 15 CNG cars and 15 electric pick up trucks currently operate on airport property. More will undoubtedly follow.
Outside funding could soon also extend to the airfield. San Francisco’s ears pricked up when it learned of the Federal Aviation Administration’s first ever program to fund electric and other clean air ground support equipment, announced in November last year. The so-called Inherently Low Emission Airport Vehicle (ILEAV) Pilot Program is eligible for airports that are public use and are located within an air quality non-attainment area designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"The FAA program is for up to $2 million per airport for a maximum of 10 airports to fund the acquisition of the incremental cost of clean air GSE over and above diesel and gasoline models," Roger Hooson, Senior Transportation Planner, Landside Operations at San Francisco told GSE Today. "This has to be matched by an equal amount by the airport or the users, which in our case will be mostly the users."
Vehicles funded by the program must run exclusively on one or more of six alternative fuels: compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, electricity, hydrogen or a blend of fuel at least 85 percent methanol.
San Francisco is now one of many airports that has bid for a slice of the action (sponsoring specific airlines in the process). The airport convinced United and Delta to apply. United has requested funding for close to 150 ground units (mostly tractors and belt loaders), while Delta has opted for 27--almost a complete replacement of its entire GSE fleet at San Francisco.
According to the FAA, proposals will be considered based on criteria established by the legislation and best practice. What it boils down to is that priority will be given to applicants that will achieve the greatest air quality benefits measured by the amount of emissions reduced per dollar of funds expended under the program. The closing date for applications was February 9, and all San Francisco can do now is sit and wait.
Although the potential FAA funding has accelerated airport involvement, San Francisco was already in close discussion with United (see sidebar). The airport had advanced a considerable amount in rent credits to its dominant carrier to help United fund a comprehensive study into future clean air vehicle requirements and technology.
The FAA funding opportunity has been a perfect catalyst for the airport to communicate with its entire ground community. Some have decided not to apply (through the airport) for FAA funds largely because of the short time frame involved in the application. Carriers without a major presence at San Francisco understandably want to focus their attention on fleet adjustments at their larger stations. That’s not to say that efforts will not be made at San Francisco in the future.
"The airlines, especially United and American, have put forward a good effort over the last decade or so," believes Hooson. "Now the airport is getting involved because there is outside funding and also because we would like to have some of the smaller carriers put forward the same effort that some of the other carriers have over the years to ramp up emissions reduction on the airfield.
"The FAA funding issue has given us an opportunity to meet with some of the players for the first time. Following on from that we will go back to them in a few months and, even if they are not involved in the FAA program, put a bit of pressure on them to switch their vehicles progressively to clean air.
"We would rather work cooperatively with the ground carriers because we think they are interested in acquiring electric ground vehicles too," adds Hooson.
Currently, a draft clean air initiative document--albeit one that is now a year old--recommends that conventional fuel vehicles requiring an airfield permit (GSE and on road vehicles that regularly cross the security fence) which are permitted through March 31, 2001 may remain in service "for their useful lives", but not beyond March 31, 2025.
All vehicles newly permitted effective April 1, 2001 must be clean vehicles if manufacturers offer a product which the airport judges to be proven, economical, and offers adequate performance. Adequate recharging or refueling infrastructure would also have to be available or installed by operators without major cost.
While the draft proposals are just that for now, the airport has essentially committed to having all clean air vehicles on the airport by 2013--or, at least, on the landside. "We are a little more cagey on the airfield because, in extreme cases, some of those vehicles have been out there for 40 years," comments Hooson.
Much depends on the manufacturers. "Some of the landside vehicle manufacturers have been slow in putting out a product that can be delivered in a reasonable time frame." Clearly, a year long delivery times for a mini bus is a problem for many private sector operators. "There are also reliability issues when talking about some natural gas vehicles," adds Hooson.
The airport does, however, provide incentive funding for those that commit to clean air vehicles. The airport’s clean vehicle policy, adopted a year ago, sets a standard whereby operators don’t have to acquire specific types of vehicle (electric or CNG) to be compliant with the policy, but instead have to achieve certain levels of emissions reductions.
"This allows flexibility for new technologies to come along," says Hooson. San Francisco uses California Air Resources Board standards for on road vehicles, which are based largely on grams of nitrous oxide emissions per brake horsepower hour. "We don’t want to be too prescriptive. We just want to focus on the emissions reductions."
The airport has already used its muscle to great affect on the landside. Under the premise that the airport roadway is private property and that it is a privilege to work there, the airport believes it can impose reasonable restrictions on usage including incentive schemes and differential fee structures aimed at trip reduction. The emphasis is on financial incentive rather than mandates, says the airport.
It has worked closely with taxi companies, hotel shuttle buses, and even rental car companies, and in February last year the Airport Commission approved a triple trip fee for hotel courtesy shuttle operators that first permit conventional fuel vehicles starting April 1, 2000. The airport’s trip fee structure favors high capacity ground transportation operators generally charging them no more per trip than low capacity operators.
"The differential fee structure will probably be extended this year to parking operators and others," says Hooson. "We don’t have the ability to do that on the airfield because they don’t pay us on a per trip basis like landside operators."
The clampdown on shuttle operators has resulted in considerable consolidation of operations--an added benefit, says Hooson. Twelve months ago, around 35 hotels operated their own shuttle service, which led to terrible curbside congestion.
"As part of this process of imposing a higher trip fee for those not willing to turn to natural gas we have encouraged certain outside contractors to talk to hotels and combine operations for several hotels in one trip," explains Hooson. "One operator operates a service for about 12 hotels."
Some hotels have opted to go it alone, although they must still keep within a certain trip ceiling. They have to reduce trips by a third to avoid the high fee and that has encouraged consolidation. Typically, no more than three hotels are combined on a given route.
Elsewhere, the EV Rentals company started renting CNG cars through Budget Rent-a-Car in August 2000, while most rental car shuttle and long term parking shuttle traffic will be replaced with the Airtrain electric train service starting in 2002. The airport is also spending $200 million to bring the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to the airport, again by 2002. This will provide an airport service from north San Mateo County, San Francisco and the East Bay, taking cars off some of the area’s heavily congested roadways (or at least arresting the growth in car use).
San Francisco has moved forward with considerable alacrity on improving air quality landside. If it can match this commitment on the airfield and demonstrate measurable results, San Francisco will truly be at the very forefront of airport clean air initiatives.
United’s Electric Commitment
United Airlines believes that a commitment to electric GSE will pencil out both economically and operationally, and not just at San Francisco.
The airline is looking at ramping up electrification at several airport stations, and specifically at major hubs such as Chicago, Denver, Washington Dulles, Los Angeles, and Boston. According to United’s Arun Hattangady, Senior Staff Engineer, Ground Equipment Engineering, San Francisco is a priority. United has fewer GSE at the airport but it nonetheless still lags behind other major stations.
"There is still a lot to do at San Francisco," Hattangady told GSE Today. Of its 760 vehicles at the airport, some 124 are electric. This sounds impressive but only stands at around 16 percent of all GSE, compared with 33 percent at other stations.
Hattangady believes firmly in developing a true partnership between airport and airline. "San Francisco International Airport has been talking about this and we are now moving in that direction."
United is also involved in the FAA’s pilot ILEAV AIR-21 program. "We are participating in this at San Francisco, Chicago, and Sacramento," explains Hattangady. United has applied, through the airport, for additional replacement of close to 150 units at San Francisco alone.
"We want to get involved as it is a good opportunity for airlines and airports to show their commitment to such a program," says Hattangady. United is committed to its electrification program come what may, although the additional FAA funding which supplements 50 percent of the incremental costs will certainly help accelerate the replacement process at the three airports.
While Hattangady acknowledges that replacing conventional fuel GSE that is in perfectly good working order does not always come easily--something that must be even harder to fathom for the finance department--he believes that United has a responsibility to be at the forefront of such developments.