Keeping the Bay Beautiful

Features Keeping the Bay Beautiful By Richard Rowe March 2001 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...


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.

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