San Diego Airport Goes Multimodal

Edward Russell

April 25th, 2022


The days of trains passing one block from the end of the runway at San Diego International Airport may be nearing an end. The airport, along with the local transportation planning organization the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the city of San Diego, and the Port of San Diego, have a two-pronged plan to get more people to their flights without a car.

“Our goal is that the first choice for any passenger going to the airport, we want transit to be so competitive that that’s the first choice,” SANDAG Deputy CEO Coleen Clementson told Airline Weekly. The first leg of the agency and its partners’ plan is a new station on the region’s light rail network, known as the Trolley, adjacent to the airport’s consolidated rental car center. San Diego’s regional rail, the Coaster, and Amtrak may also serve the station. The second leg, and the more ambitious one that SANDAG hopes will attract the most riders, is an automated people mover connecting the terminal complex at San Diego airport with the city’s Santa Fe Depot downtown.

Of course, converting car trips to the airport to train trips is easier said than done. The drawback of the San Diego area’s plans are that every ride would need to make at least one transfer to reach the airport: Either at the new station, or downtown at Santa Fe Depot. Forced transfers are well known to deter some riders versus offering a direct line, or one-seat ride, to the airport — for example extending one of San Diego’s existing Trolley or regional rail lines. Asked why this was not selected by SANDAG, Clementson said their studies found a people mover that has, for example, 2-minute headways between trains was the “best option for getting the most ridership.”

An ever-increasing number of U.S. airports are connected by rail to their local transit systems. While the quality of these connections vary widely from light rail or Metro stations directly adjacent to the terminal at Seattle-Tacoma and Washington National, respectively, to dedicated Airtrains that connect to regional lines like at Miami and New York JFK. While there are no data on how many travelers nationally use these connections, 48 percent of U.S. flyers at least had access to them in 2019, according to Federal Aviation Administration data.

Funding for the two projects that have an estimated $4 billion cost will come from several sources. The San Diego airport has committed $500 million from its $3.4 billion redevelopment of Terminal 1 — none of which comes from passenger facility charges (PFCs) collected by the airport from travelers, a spokesperson clarified. Additional funds will come from local, state, and federal sources, and potentially including from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Clementson said the local funding portion will require voter approval.

But if funding is secured, the first phase of the new station and people mover connection to San Diego airport could open as soon as 2028. Environmental studies and preliminary engineering work are forecast to take two years with a potential ground breaking in 2024.

Edward Russell

Airport Briefs

  • Hong Kong International Airport’s third runway is ready for business. The airport notified authorities that the runway has met ICAO standards and is “ready for commencing operation.” The airport did not provide a date when the runway, which is located north of the existing northern runway 7L/25R, will commence operations. Hong Kong’s strict border rules and quarantine requirements has pummeled traffic at the airport; it handled just 94,000 passengers in March, a 98.5 percent drop from three years earlier.
  • Washington Dulles airport operator the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority approved plans for a new $671 million, 14-gate concourse south of the existing Concourse C/D. The facility will replace the ground-level boarding gates on Concourse A, and is billed as the “first component of a very long term [capital] program for Dulles,” MWAA board member David Speck said. United Airlines, which uses the existing A gates for regional flights, will use the new concourse that will be built atop of the existing C/D AeroTrain station. MWAA hopes to secure up to $230 million in federal grants for the concourse from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that passed last year. With the approval, the operator aims to begin construction in 2023 with an opening date target of 2026.
  • The City of Austin launched a $404 million bond on April 20 to fund capital improvements at the city’s airport. Proceeds will be put towards the airport’s $2.1 billion capital plan that includes improvements to the terminal and new ground-level bus gates, a new centralized luggage handling system, and planning and construction of a new at least 10-gate midfield concourse. Austin airport has been a pandemic traffic winner with passenger boardings up 11 percent for the five-months ending in February compared to the same period in the airport’s 2019 fiscal year. Austin plans to price the bond on April 26, and close on May 18.
  • Baltimore-Washington International Airport CEO Ricky Smith said the airport also plans to apply for some of the competitive grants available under the U.S. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Asked what it planned to seek funds for, he said the airport had “needs” that it could accelerate. Last year, the airport outlined future plans to build a secure passenger connector between Concourses C and D, an in-terminal hotel, new security checkpoint, and new air traffic control tower.
  • KLM objects to a 33-percent increase in fees at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport over the next three years. The airline claims that the airport, which it calls a “monopolist,” is using the fee increase under the Netherland’s Aviation Act , which governs the terms of Schiphol’s operating license to pass on its pandemic losses to airlines. KLM, and its affiliates Air France, KLM Cityhopper, Martinair, and Transavia, will appeal the increase to the Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal.
  • Spirit Airlines has reached a deal for a new maintenance hangar at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental airport. The carrier will take control of the existing building in June, and plans to staff up the facility after that. The new hangar will have two aircraft bays and ramp space for another four aircraft. Houston is Spirit’s second maintenance base after Detroit.

Edward Russell

Edward Russell

April 25th, 2022