Oct. 7 2015 01:44 PM

Airport Authority decisions don't reflect neighborhood concerns

Photo by Glenn Beltz / Flickr
The residents of Point Loma are in a neighborhood fight with the Federal Aviation Administration over its recent decision to change flight patterns at Lindbergh Field. Apparently, tighter turns for eastbound takeoffs would save fuel for the airlines and allow for more operations at the one-runway facility.

Under most weather conditions eastbound planes take off over the Pacific and execute a U-turn to head east. The new flight pattern allows those turns to be made sooner, tighter and at lower altitudes.

As a result, Point Loma neighborhoods, residents fear, might be subject to two flyovers rather than one.

Local community leaders are in constant interaction with airport officials and lawsuits have led to substantial programs to aid homeowners with noise impacts. But the flight pattern change seemed to catch residents by surprise.

While the public discussion has focused on the question of the impact on Point Loma per flight, the most intriguing part of the FAA report is a single sentence that suggests that “more efficient” use of airspace could allow for more flights in and out of the airport's lone runway.

This is ironic because the Airport Authority punted on an opportunity more than a decade ago to secure a small strip of property from the military. This would have allowed for the extension of a taxiway that would have increased both capacity and safety.

It's a complex backstory with lots of insider intrigue, and airport officials will insist that no compromises to safety have been made. But the publicly available record clearly demonstrates that the airport would increase capacity, improve safety and reduce the delay created when weather conditions require reversing the direction of takeoffs and landings.

Folks in Point Loma are perfectly capable of advocating for themselves. But the airport is a regional asset, and we all have a responsibility to care about how its operations affect neighbors.

The good news is that improvements in airplane technology are likely to reduce impacts on surrounding communities. But this is an airport that was run to fail for decades before the decision was finally made to accept the fact that the site was not going to be abandoned.

Scores of bad planning decisions—including passing up the taxiway extension, building terminals on the bayside rather than Pacific Highway side of the tarmac, and constructing more and more parking capacity along Harbor Drive—have made the airport less efficient than it should be. It has also magnified impacts on Point Loma, Little Italy and the balance of surrounding communities.

The irony is that smarter decisions on the ground would save more fuel in the air, produce more operational capacity than possible in the air, and make for a safer airport.

The history of poor decisions on the ground inordinately affects residents of Point Loma. That alone should be enough to shame us into supporting Point Loma residents who rightfully are suspicious of the decisions made by local and federal officials who seem far more interested in the financial fate of the airlines than anything else.

But we should also take this opportunity to focus on the Airport Authority's continued insistence on running the airport like an island rather than as a partner with its surrounding communities.

Airport improvements are being implemented daily on the basis of an EIR that contemplates widening Harbor Drive to 10 lanes as mitigation for increased car traffic generated by the terminals and adjacent parking on the harbor side of the airport.

The EIR and airport planners ignored the North Embarcadero plan to narrow Harbor Drive beginning at Grape Street. Eventually, this will produce gridlock on the downtown side of the airport and force traffic through Point Loma.

All of this could have been avoided by building the terminals on the Pacific Highway side of the tarmac where the rental car facility is now under construction. The Airport Authority is about to move forward with a garage across from Terminal 2, which it promised not to build in order to stave off legal challenges to the airport EIR from SANDAG and the city of San Diego. A five-year “tolling agreement” was supposed to provide time for negotiations on the garage issue. Instead, the city went back to sleep, the five-year “commitment” expired and now folks in Point Loma, Little Italy and other surrounding communities will pay the price.

The Airport Authority remains an insular and industry-centric organization largely because of governance changes that eliminated full-time board positions.

It operates today only marginally more reasonably than it did under the Port District.

Not everything is wrong at the Airport Authority. But it continues to fail to recognize it has a responsibility to the people on the ground, not just the business interests of the airlines.

Co-authored by S. Chad Peace, president of IVC Media, LLC, and Steve Peace, CEO of Killer Tomato Entertainment


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