Thursday, May 04, 2006 | The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is pleased to see your innovative online publication covering the San Diego region’s airport site selection process. However, it is important for the region to understand the full picture when considering the opinion piece by San Diego County Taxpayers Association Treasurer Harvey Goodfriend in your April 11 edition.

Mr. Goodfriend gave the airport authority low marks for several elements of its Airport Site Selection Program. In fact, the program has been successful in involving residents throughout the San Diego region in a robust dialogue about what kind of air transportation system we want to leave our children and future generations. The program has won national and local awards for the quality, openness and inclusiveness of its public outreach efforts.

Much as the presents journalism with a fresh new, online-only approach, the airport authority has also sought new, balanced and innovative ways, along with more traditional approaches, to engage the public in this important issue. Our efforts have included:

– Online dialogues involving hundreds of regional residents

– A series of aviation education forums

Regarding the six “principles” for which Goodfriend offered low marks, it will ultimately be up to county voters to decide how effective the airport authority has been in these areas. But there is another side to the story.

Principle 1: Maximize Use of All Existing Airports

Why is this concept viewed as unworkable for the San Diego region? Unlike Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York, San Diego is not an air transportation hub. We are an origin-and-destination market, with very few connecting flights – and the additional air service they might generate. Also, costs for airlines to use a new supplemental airport would be steeper than using Lindbergh Field because of the debt required to build it. Why then would airlines be motivated to serve the new facility? Forcing airlines to a new facility is difficult, if not impossible, as exhibited by the failed experience at Montreal’s old Mirabel Airport after that city’s new airport was built.

Principle 2: Optimize Lindbergh Field

The state law creating the airport authority says a viable long-term solution will need to serve some 35 million airline passengers a year. An airport solution designed to accommodate that number would likely serve our region for 100 years or more. That is the kind of long-range planning to which communities interested in long-term viability commit themselves.

Our region will grow regardless of what we do about the airport – the question is, will it grow stronger? We must also ask: Is it fair to leave this issue for future generations to solve? We should take responsibility and seize the chance to solve this problem for the long-term…now. After all, that is one of the chief reasons state law created the airport authority in the first place.

“Concept 6,” was moved forward into analysis by the board. The analysis revealed something equally unimaginable: Concept 6 would have displaced nearly 18,000 residents and wiped out large business and residential sections of the city’s historic Point Loma area. The board voted not to move the concept forward.

Principle 3: Disclose External Infrastructure Costs

Similar calculations are now being done for the three military sites undergoing further analysis. These numbers will be presented publicly and to the airport authority board by the end of May.

Principle 4: Provide Voters with Airport Financing Plan

Mr. Goodfriend stated, “what’s not being said so far, at least not very loudly, is that it will be those who use the airport who will pay for the cost of any move.” Maybe it is not being said very loudly…because it is not entirely true.

In this country, construction of new airport infrastructure is funded through a variety of sources, the biggest one being airport revenue bonds. The revenue bonds are backed and paid by funds generated on the airport by concessions, parking revenues, landing fees, etc. History shows that airport revenue bonds funded some 75 percent of the cost of building Denver International Airport and approximately 87 percent of the cost of building Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Other funding sources include the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program and passenger facility charges.

What Mr. Goodfriend fails to disclose is that the cost to passengers will go up even more if the region is stuck with a highly constrained airport facility. Since airline fares are market-based, airlines often charge more where air service is at a premium – namely, at airports where passenger demand exceeds seat capacity. One only needs to look north to John Wayne International Airport in Orange County, which operates under a legal cap of 10.8 million annual passengers. Far more passengers would like to use that airport, but legally it can’t accommodate them. The result? It is one of the most expensive major airports in California to fly into or out of.

So, while some fees may increase to help pay for a long-term airport solution, they will not compare with the higher airfares passengers would face in the long run by staying at a constrained facility.

Principle 5: The Viability of Joint Use

Military representatives have been part of the Public Working Group since day one, and the airport authority board has often stated its solid support of the military’s vital role in both national defense and the regional economy.

The time has come to provide an answer this region has long deserved: what is the best long-term air transportation for the San Diego region, and does it involve a military site or not? We look forward to continuing our work with the military as we analyze the feasibility of joint use. This analysis is nearly complete, and the results will be released publicly by mid-May.

Principle 6: Economic Impact Study

All the aforementioned principles have been important parts of the airport authority’s ongoing commitment to address the San Diego region’s long-term air transportation needs. And they will continue to play an integral role as the airport authority board arrives at a long-term solution to place before county voters in November 2006.

Thella F. Bowens is president and CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Send a letter to the editor.

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