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Tuesday, March 29, 2005 | The San Diego Regional Airport Authority is in the process of reviewing possible sites for a new airport. Options include expanding Lindbergh Field. The goal is to place a measure before voters in the November 2006 election. Please e-mail Voice to let us know your thoughts on this issue.

Greater San Diego (2.9 million people) is almost as big as Greater Montreal (3.3 million), and here lies quite a tale about their airports. The only difference is that Montreal did something about it, and in a big way. On Nov. 29, 1975, it dedicated the $1 billion Mirabel, the largest and most modern airport in the world, complete with a railroad station and a road tunnel under its runways to take travelers to and from their international gates. The then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau called it “a project for the 21st Century.”

Fast forward a few years. Today, Montreal-Mirabel is almost totally devoid of passengers, and its expensive granite floor terminals are empty. This white elephant will soon be converted to a shopping or training center. The older Dorval airport is being expanded for regional traffic, while all international travel is to be centered at Toronto International Airport, 315 miles to the east. There is a bitter lesson here for San Diego.

Many of the reasons for this sad outcome arise from almost all the same sources that afflict San Diego. A few years ago, British Airways spent half a million dollars to upgrade Lindbergh as an international terminal for its flights. Efforts to add additional international carriers to San Diego failed. This I know first hand, because I worked on it. Eventually British Airways had to abandon Lindbergh because there were not enough passengers to justify the stop. At the time, San Diego had the lowest number of passport holders for a city of its size, a situation which probably continues to this day.

It is interesting to note that of the many committees over the past decades that studied what to do about either expanding Lindbergh or site a new large airport for San Diego, none of them seem to have seriously addressed the simple question of whether San Diego could sustain a large international airport. Yet there is a logical solution that has really never been carefully examined, and for which there is a great precedent. On June 24, 1950, President Harry Truman dedicated the Friendship Airport, 10 miles south of Baltimore and 30 miles north of Washington, D.C. It was the first airport in the area to accommodate the new jet planes that were coming into service. It continues to serve Baltimore and Washington to this day as the nation’s 28th largest commercial airport, while Dulles International Airport provides the central airport for the rapidly growing entire region.

San Diego could approach Los Angeles, which also needs a new airport, and plan together to build a large airport for these two cities only 135 miles apart. There are several suitable areas between them but beyond the fog belt. Then we could connect the airport with the two city centers by high speed ground transportation. This could be done a lot sooner and for much less money than any other proposed alternatives. That would make a lot of sense. It would provide both San Diego and Los Angeles with a powerful economic and social asset, if both city leaders could just see beyond the end of their noses and look to the future.

Dr. Elie A. Shneour, a native of France and WWII U.S. veteran, is president of Biosystems Institutes, Inc. and Research Director of Biosystems Research Institute of San Diego, with divisions near Paris and Osaka, Japan.

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