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Friday, Sept 15, 2006 | San Diego’s airport decision is an extraordinarily important public policy issue and Ricondo & Associates is very proud to have spearheaded the technical analysis. We have been very careful to focus on the technical aspects and avoid the public policy issue.

I have read Dr. Richard Carson’s repeated criticisms of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s Airport Site Selection Program and, until now, remained silent. However his latest piece in The San Diego Union-Tribune, on Sept. 8 is the last straw.

Dr. Carson suggests the planning process was “… a smoke screen intended to purposefully point to Miramar as the only answer.” However, his numerous points clearly indicate that either he has not reviewed the technical work or has chosen to ignore it and misrepresent facts.

The Airport Site Selection Program was one of the most thorough and detailed airport studies of any kind undertaken in this country. There are over 10,000 pages of documents describing the technical work on this program. While I believe that the technical work was professionally prepared and objective, it is perhaps more significant that an independent panel of aviation experts concurred that it was very thorough and credible. Dr. Carson’s comments are highly insulting to the many professionals that have contributed to this work over the last six years.

Allow me to focus on three primary assertions raised in his most recent diatribe.

  • “It [the Authority] manufactured the appearance of an impending crisis at Lindbergh.”
    There are numerous earlier studies on the potential capacity of Lindbergh Field. Our team reviewed all of these and conducted its own independent analysis. The simple fact is this site is constrained by its limited space, adjacent land uses and terrain. Professionals may debate when this airport will run out of capacity but, to my knowledge, no aviation professional has ever questioned that it will.
  • “The Airport Authority ruled out any solution that involved developing another smaller, supplemental airport.”
    A supplemental airport solution, including the McClellan-Palomar Airport site, was carefully considered. The conclusion was that airline acceptance of a supplemental site would be questionable, thus creating unacceptable financial risks for the program and the region. San Diego’s economy and tax payers would end up paying for a “white elephant” supplemental airport project. Montreal Mirabel was an important lesson in that regard.

With regard to extension of the McClellan-Palomar Airport runway, Dr. Carson oversimplifies. First, much of the airport is constructed on a landfill. Development of an extended runway would likely require the excavation and clean fill of this landfill.

Second, to accommodate larger aircraft (like the Boeing 757) would require more space, as well as reconstructing the runway in order to meet applicable FAA design standards.

Third, the runway extension would likely need to be much more than 800 feet. John Wayne in Orange County has a 5,701-foot runway. Palomar has a 4,897-foot runway with a landing distance available of only 4,600 feet due to terrain east of the airport. The only option for a runway extension at Palomar is to go west over an embankment. To generate a departure distance equivalent to Orange County, the net runway extension would be 1,101-feet, plus a runway safety area of 1,000 feet and accommodation of a localizer (air navigation equipment) that requires a 250-foot setback from the safety area for a net addition of 2,351 feet.

However, given the expense and effort to rebuild the entire airfield in order to address the landfill and other issues outlined above, the FAA and the airlines would be unlikely to support this extensive work for only a 5,700-foot runway.

  • “The Airport Authority insisted that any airport site had to support two 12,000-foot runways with 4,300 feet of separation between them to allow a pair of fully loaded 747s to take off or land simultaneously.”
    The airfield planning parameters were intended to establish the general land requirements for a new airport site. Two 12,000-foot runways separated by 4,300 feet with the associated passenger and cargo facilities would require a basic footprint of approximately 3,000 acres. This footprint was viewed as the basic requirement for a new airport that could serve the region’s aviation needs well into the future.

Long-term planning of a new airport must provide flexibility to meet needs that may not occur for 50 years or more. However, initial development would only meet known requirements. It may be that in subsequent master planning, the initial runway lengths may be shorter than 12,000 feet, while still allowing for future runway extensions. The basic land requirements for the airport site would still be the same.

A smaller site would ensure limitations for the airport, which is not good planning for aviation infrastructure intended to meet air travel needs of San Diego County well into the future.

While Dr. Carson may not agree with the Authority’s decision, his misrepresentation of the technical analysis is a disservice to the public policy debate.

Ramon Ricondo is president of Ricondo & Associates, the aviation consulting firm that led the Airport Site Selection Program technical analysis for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. Send a letter to the editor here.

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