Clearing the Air at the Airport

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has been a leader in addressing air quality and emissions, as evidenced by progressive, airport-wide sustainability initiatives and strategic partnerships. While local air quality is most affected by criteria pollutants (those deemed hazardous to human health such as carbon monoxide), climate change is associated with greenhouse gases (GHGs) that absorb infrared radiation in the atmosphere. In order to address both, the Airport Authority has implemented emission-reduction measures that have, in many cases, led to other benefits like cost savings and resource conservation.


In 2008, the Airport Authority formally committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at San Diego International Airport (SAN), entering into a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the California Attorney General, and developed a formal Air Quality Management Plan in 2010. Greenhouse gas emissions at the airport were reduced by nearly 4 percent by 2012. The Airport Authority is currently developing an emissions inventory for 2015, which will provide an updated snapshot of emissions reductions.


A cornerstone of the Airport Authority’s successful approach is working across departments and with all tenants, businesses and concessions to reduce our collective carbon footprints. Some recent accomplishments in transitioning to cleaner vehicles and fuel sources include:


  • Electric Vehicle & GSE Charging Stations – The airport is committed to providing the necessary infrastructure for zero-emission transportation and now has 28 charging ports for electric vehicles for passenger use and 44 charging ports for airlines’ ground support equipment (GSE).


  • Rental Car Center (RCC) Buses – The fleet of 16 RCC buses (soon to be 25) that transport rental car customers to and from the terminals operate on “renewable” compressed natural gas (CNG), which is derived domestically from landfills instead of fossil fuel sources. This drastically reduces the fuel’s carbon intensity.


  • Ground Transportation Fleet Conversion – Of the approximately 590 permitted ground transportation vehicles operating at the airport, 80 percent have converted to hybrid or alternative fuel technology. These operators include taxis, hotel courtesy shuttles, and off-airport parking shuttles.


Air emissions require a continued and ever-evolving focus. This is especially true because emissions associated with vehicles and buildings owned and operated by the Airport Authority represent less than 2 percent of the airport’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the Airport Authority has to engage with all business partners and throughout our supply chain to identify unique and innovative strategies to continue to address emissions. The airport is planning to formally update its Air Quality Management Plan in the near future to ensure continued progress and to align with new regional and state efforts.



Seeking New Ways to Conserve Water
and Adapt to ‘New Normal’

The past several years have marked one of California’s most lasting and severe droughts, prompting statewide mandatory water use restrictions. Only 17 percent of San Diego’s current water supply comes from local sources, and the entire supply is threatened by ongoing drought.


Meanwhile, the price San Diego International Airport pays for water has increased by 16 percent since 2008, consistent with the overall trend in the cost of water throughout the region, which is expected to increase by up to 400 percent over the next 20 years.


In 2015, the airport used about 74 million gallons of potable water – a 5 percent decrease from the previous year, but 22% above the 2011 total. Increased temperatures, growing passenger volumes, and an expansion of terminal facilities likely contributed to the higher water demand.


The airport is preparing for the “new normal” of decreased supply and increased cost by accelerating water conservation and reuse efforts. Given that 80 percent of water used at the airport goes to non-potable purposes, significant opportunities exist to reduce dependence on imported water supplies. From recent investments in xeriscape and turf replacement projects, to the capture and reuse of condensate water from jet bridges, the airport is embracing innovative approaches to managing its water resources.


There is an inextricable link between water resources and our viability as an airport enterprise, and this interdependence warrants a bold vision and strategy to ensure sustainability. In 2015, the airport embarked on developing a Water Stewardship Plan (WSP), which establishes a vision of being a leading, world-class steward of water resources and operating in harmony with the natural water cycle of the San Diego Bay region.


The WSP provides a framework for rethinking how to manage water resources while preparing to accommodate passenger growth, new airport developments, and a changing climate. Specifically, the WSP addresses issues of water conservation, water quality, and flood resilience considerations through an integrated approach that will enable the growth of airport operations while protecting our region’s limited resources.


The vision includes the development of water reuse infrastructure that enables water capture, treatment, storage, and conveyance to airport facilities for non-potable water uses. Ultimately, the system would allow for the continuous reuse of water by eliminating the need to discharge waste and storm water for treatment by external facilities.



Target State: Closed-Loop Water System

Condensate Program

In 2014, San Diego International Airport (SAN) began collecting condensate – water created by condensation – from air conditioning units installed under passenger boarding bridges. The condensate typically drips from the bottom of the unit onto the tarmac and is lost. This system recovered and reused about 5,200 gallons of AC condensate the first year. In 2015, the first full year of the program, SAN collected an estimated 70,700 gallons of condensate water from eleven boarding bridges.



Planning for a Renewable and Reliable Energy Future

Operating San Diego International Airport (SAN) requires substantial energy use, and energy requirements represent the single greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the airport, based on the most recent inventory.


While the airport is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is also planning to accommodate future passenger growth and facility expansion needs. Managing energy use in the context of this growth poses challenges and opportunities, and is the central focus of the energy management strategy.


The airport’s energy demand has increased by nearly 17 percent since 2011, consistent with the increased square-footage brought by the Terminal 2 Green Build expansion and other development. However, the amount of energy used per square foot has decreased in that timeframe due to more efficient operation of the newer buildings. Moving forward, more effective management of peak energy demand will be a central focus of efforts to control utility costs.


In 2015, the airport embarked on the development of a new Energy Master Plan to guide energy decisions into the future and manage energy resources in a more intelligent and flexible manner. The Energy Master Plan’s five overarching goals include:


  • Efficient operations
  • Cost containment
  • Energy resilience
  • Carbon neutrality
  • Leadership


The Energy Master Plan will not only address building and facility energy use, but also support electrification of our fleet and transition to zero-emission technologies. It will serve as a powerful tool to engage tenants in the airport’s energy management efforts, and will help us better understand their energy conservation priorities and initiatives, which is not currently tracked.


SAN’s Sun Belt location presents significant opportunities to harvest solar energy, and the airport made substantial progress toward this end in 2015. The airport installed 3.3 megawatts of solar photovoltaics in two phases on the roof of Terminal 2 and the adjacent parking lot. The installation of an additional 2.2 megawatts is envisioned for the Economy parking lot on the north side of the airport. Together, these facilities have the potential to supply up to 20 percent of the airport’s energy needs annually.


San Diego International Airport has installed an innovative 12-kV electrical loop system that completely changes how the airport receives and distributes energy.


The new system:

  • Lowers the cost of energy the airport uses by removing most SDG&E meters and allowing the airport to purchase electricity in bulk
  • Increases the reliability and resiliency of the airport’s power supply. Because the system is designed as a continuous loop, if electricity in one part of the airport goes down, we can reroute power from another part of the loop
  • Facilitates distribution of renewable and sustainable energy airport-wide

SAN Inspected Annually for Federal Safety Compliance


Nothing is more important than the safety of passengers, tenants, employees and everyone else who uses San Diego International Airport. To that end, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has consistently shown that it meets or exceeds federal regulations governing aviation safety.


The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Part 139, requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to inspect eligible airports yearly to ensure they meet operational and safety standards and provide for such things as firefighting and rescue equipment. These requirements vary depending on the size of the airport and the type of flights available.


Among other things, FAA inspectors check:


  • Airfield pavement condition, markings, lighting, signs and adjacent areas
  • Aircraft rescue and firefighting facilities
  • Fueling facilities


Part 139 also mandates that SAN has an Airport Emergency Plan (AEP) involving annual exercises; and that SAN conducts a mass-casualty exercise every three years.

California Least Tern Nesting Protection

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has taken extensive measures to protect the California Least Terns endangered seabirds, which have made the airport their home over the years. California Least Terns nest and raise their chicks at the airport from mid-April to mid-September every year.  By the time the 2015 Least Tern season ended, we had counted a total of 1,185 nests over a 10-year period! More generally, our Wildlife Rescue Plan outlines procedures to manage other wildlife encounters and avoid any impacts to aircraft operations at the airport.