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Politics and airports don’t mix.

That’s the basic message of a state report released today through the office of state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego.

Kehoe requested the study of California airports as part of her effort to revisit how San Diego’s airport is run. The structure of the three-year-old San Diego County Regional Airport Authority will be reviewed this fall, and legislation changing its structure could be introduced early next year.

“The research literature suggests that autonomous airport governing bodies such as regional authorities are more effective for airports that play a significant role in regional and national economies,” the report says. “This is because they tend to insulate airports from political interference, and are more adept at long-term planning than more politicized local governance structures.”

One question facing the politicians examining San Diego’s airport authority will be this: How regional is our regional authority? Do its political appointees insulate it from politics or do they subject it to politics? Kehoe, in recently announcing her examination of the authority, said its choice of Miramar as the best site for a new international airport reflected its distance from the populace it serves.

But if you apply the findings of the report, that type of distance may be a good thing. The report says San Diego’s authority has one of four autonomous airport boards in the state.

Because while airports have regional and even nationwide benefits, the report says, they have intensely local impacts: Noise and traffic. They have stifled expansion plans and forced curfews at several California airports, the report says.

When it gets San Diego specific, the report doesn’t appear to acknowledge that the airport authority is developing a plan to expand Lindbergh Field’s terminal space. The report calls San Diego a “notable exception” for being one of just two major California airports to not undertake expansion plans.

“In San Diego, development efforts have focused more on the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s statutory mandate to find a site for the airport to place on the November 2006 countywide ballot,” it says, “than on making improvements to the existing airport.”

A couple of other interesting tidbits:

  • John Wayne Airport in Orange County has the state’s most restrictive curfew. It imposes fines of up to $500,000 and limits all takeoffs from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. (Landings aren’t allowed beyond 11 p.m.) Operations aren’t allowed to start on Sundays until 8 a.m.
  • Lindbergh Field is small. Yes, we know, this isn’t exactly breaking news. But the report gives some good context about how Lindbergh compares statewide: “It is considerably smaller than other airports with similar levels of passenger traffic. Oakland, Portland, and Sacramento have fewer passengers annually, but occupy areas four to nine times the size of San Diego International.”

ROB DAVIS

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