Monday, April 19, 2006 | Marine Corps Air Station Miramar emerged the victor of a new study of the marketability of proposed sites for a new regional airport, while four distant options in the desert and Riverside County were clearly the losers.

Because of its central location to tourist sites, major businesses and the county’s population center, Miramar is touted by the airport authority study as the most marketable of seven options. It would continue drawing passengers from southern San Diego, the study says, while drawing new fliers from northern San Diego County.

Lindbergh Field, with a supplemental runway across the bay at Naval Air Station North Island, would also be strongly accepted by potential airport users for similar reasons.

The study, which will be presented and discussed at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s Monday strategic planning meeting, could call into question Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton’s viability as a new airport site. The sprawling 125,000-acre base is 40 miles away from San Diego’s central business district. That’s farther than any other airport to its related city center in the nation – and nearly in the world. Only Tokyo’s second airport would be farther away, at 41 miles.

Authority members received the study Tuesday night. Board member Xema Jacobson said she had yet to digest the 84-page report, but questioned why the marketability of expanding Lindbergh Field – without an extra runway at North Island – had been excluded from the study.

While a Camp Pendleton airport would be unattractive to southern San Diego air travelers, it would draw in 500,000 more passengers than had previously been projected in 2030, because it is so close to Orange County.

But moving the airport farther north would entice more people to drive to Los Angeles International Airport rather than fly, the study says. Although traffic will be worse in 2030 and LAX will have its own capacity problems, the study says many would still drive there.

Camp Pendleton “is far from an ideal solution for San Diego County,” the report says, “because it would be inconvenient for many travelers. … [It] is perhaps best considered less of a San Diego County airport and more of a San Diego County/Orange County airport.”

If the base is chosen, the study says close attention should be paid to providing transportation between the airport and San Diego. In 2030, the average drive time would be 50 minutes to Camp Pendleton, compared with 34 minutes to Miramar and 40 minutes to Lindbergh Field.

The longest drive? Two-and-a-half hours to Riverside County’s March Air Reserve Base.

The study dismisses March and three other sites as being too remote: Imperial County, Borrego Springs and Boulevard. While constrained capacity at Lindbergh would cause serious consequences – longer waits, more traffic, higher fares – the study says building an airport at a remote site would cause even greater problems. Choosing a remote site “is likely to have significant economic consequences,” it says.

Putting the airport in one of those four remote sites, the study says, would make San Diego unattractive for tourists destined for cruise ships. The distance would be the nation’s longest between a city’s airport and its cruise terminal and “is likely to pose a significant deterrent to passengers considering taking a cruise in San Diego.”

Imperial County supporters have touted a high-speed magnetic levitation train as a way to cut travel time and increase the market for that site, 104 miles from downtown San Diego. The authority’s marketability study views the expensive train skeptically.

Previous projections show 48 percent of air travelers would use the high-speed train, estimated to cost between $15 billion and $25 billion. It would take air travelers an average of 94 minutes to get to the Imperial County site, the study says. If 96 percent of Imperial County-bound passengers used the maglev, the study concludes the average travel time would still be 82 minutes.

The study found it unlikely that passengers to nearby destinations such as Las Vegas would drive from their home to a proposed Miramar maglev station, ride the train, and “then endure the airport and airline experience, only to arrive at their destination and still need to take a cab or rent a car.”

But no site would be more problematic for airlines and passengers than March Air Reserve Base, according to the study. It predicts no airlines would move to the site, because it is just 28 miles away from the nearby Ontario airport, which still has room to expand.

If San Diego’s airport is put there, the study forecasts passenger demand would drop 100 percent.

The report was commissioned by the airport authority and prepared by two consultants, Eclat Consulting and Ricondo & Associates.

Please contact Rob Davis directly at with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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