Tuesday, March 14, 2006 | At least one member of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has greeted an early proposal to build a supplemental airport at Naval Air Station North Island with a hefty dose of skepticism.

And not because of the complications of sharing it with the U.S. Navy. Nor because of the tunnel that would have to be built from Lindbergh Field to North Island, stretching four miles beneath San Diego Bay.

The culprit? The wind.

The issue is equal parts physics and meteorology. When airplanes take off, they’re supposed to head into the wind. But when crosswinds are too strong, planes can’t fly. Federal Aviation Administration standards require airports to be able to cope with crosswinds 95 percent of the time.

That’s a problem, according to a consultant’s preliminary findings. Complying with FAA standards during periodical Santa Ana winds would cut the airports’ capacity.

And that, board member William D. Lynch hinted, could be a possible deal-breaker.

During that 15 percent of the year – about 54 days – creative takeoff and landing patterns would be needed to simultaneously operate runways at North Island and Lindbergh Field. That would reduce the capacity – a big deal. It’s the reason the authority is looking for a new site in the first place.

As the authority narrows down sites for voters to consider as Lindbergh Field replacements on a November ballot initiative, the North Island proposal is the only one being studied in-depth that would keep Lindbergh open. The proposal would merge operations between the two sites.

Lynch questioned whether the lost capacity would render a North Island supplemental airport a moot point.

“We’ve got a challenge here, at best,” he said. Later, he asked: “Isn’t this devastating?”

Both scenarios would require officials to stagger takeoffs and landings so that incoming airplanes that miss their approaches wouldn’t collide with outgoing flights. About 50 planes miss their approaches and have to circle around each month at Lindbergh, said Ted Sexton, the authority’s vice president of operations.

The authority won’t know until April just how much the issue would reduce capacity of the supplemental proposal. That information will come when an in-depth study of North Island is completed, looking at other details such as costs and environmental impacts.

As the authority continues with that detailed analysis, it will also go back and do a basic study of building a North Island airport – even though the more rigorous (and more expensive) study is well underway.

Depending upon whom you ask, the basic study has already been done. Or not.

Board member Mary Teresa Sessom said the basic study, called a Tier I analysis, didn’t examine the impacts of a civilian-military joint use at North Island. Another Tier I study should have been done, but was stopped because of the military’s Base Realignment and Closure process. The process, Sessom said, was “short-circuited without board authorization.”

Angela Shafer-Payne, the authority’s vice president of strategic planning, said Tier I studies were done, but looked at the impacts of the authority using the bases exclusively, not jointly.

Sessom said the detailed study, estimated to cost $1 million, is premature. A basic check to see if the proposal has any fatal flaws should come first, she said.

Shafer-Payne said the basic study did come first, in October 2003. She provided a copy of the study, which details such findings as the noise and environment impacts of building at North Island. The joint proposal will have a less severe impact, she said, because it wouldn’t require relocating the military.

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