Our Operational Strategy

Operate the airport in a safe, secure, environmentally sound, effective, and efficient manner.


ACI Carbon Accreditation Level 2 Certification

In 2016, San Diego International Airport (SAN) was certified through the Airports Council International's (ACI) Airport Carbon Accreditation program, the only carbon management certification standard for airports. The program creates a framework that helps airports identify, manage, and ultimately reduce their carbon emissions. SAN was certified at “Level 2," which means the airport is actively implementing a carbon management plan and has reduced emissions under its control.

The Airport Carbon Accreditation program began in 2009 as part of the Airport Council International Europe Annual Congress, and accreditation requires a rigorous inventory and verification process. To apply for certification, airports must have their carbon footprints independently verified in accordance with ISO14064 (Greenhouse Gas Accounting). Evidence of this must be provided to the administrator together with all claims regarding carbon management processes, which must also be independently verified.

SAN is one of only 21 commercial airports in North America to successfully become certified through this program.

To support this certification, SAN has recently built highly energy efficient facilities (such as its Rental Car Center), installed solar energy panels on roofs and in parking lots, converted 100 percent of its shuttle fleet to alternative fuels, and launched The Good Traveler carbon offset program to enable passengers to reduce the environmental impact of their travel.

In addition, the airport's draft Strategic Energy Plan provides a framework for rethinking how the Authority manages greenhouse gas emissions from its energy resources, while preparing to accommodate passenger growth, development projects, and a changing climate.

Airport Carbon Accreditation Airports Council International


Tracking and Reducing Impacts

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority tracks and addresses air quality impacts and greenhouse gases (GHG) through its annual emissions inventory. Between calendar years 2014 and 2015, the Airport Authority was able to reduce total GHG emissions from sources under its control – such as facilities energy use and fleet fuel use (Scopes 1 & 2) – by 0.5 percent. This allowed the San Diego International Airport (SAN) to be officially certified in 2016 by the Airport Council Internationals' Airport Carbon Accreditation program.

The Airport Authority also collaborated with the San Diego Air Pollution Control District to integrate forecasted airport emissions over the next 30 years into its plans to address the County's "non-attainment” status for state and federal eight-hour ozone standards.

Finally, in addition to a new airport shuttle-trolley station connection and new transit ticketing machines in the terminals, SAN promoted low-emission employee commute options by hosting a pit stop as part of the 2016 San Diego Regional Bike to Work Day and conducting a survey of airport employees to better understand their electric vehicle charging needs.


While the Airport Authority has made progress in reducing emissions under its direct control, indirect greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 3) associated with aircraft and ground transportation vehicles increased by approximately 5,200 metric tons between 2014 and 2015. As such, the Airport Authority is seeking new opportunities with its business partners to facilitate emissions reductions.

The Authority has been especially focused on better understanding how to help airlines and their subcontractors convert their ground support equipment (GSE) from diesel to electric. Approximately 24 percent of GSE at SAN now utilize zero emission technology, which is an improvement from previous years.

Look Ahead

SAN was recently successful in obtaining a sustainability management planning grant from the Federal Aviation Administration that will support the development of a new Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) in 2017. The AQMP will provide an updated framework to reduce carbon emissions and improve local air quality through energy, transportation, and other investments. SAN will also aggressively pursue potential transportation electrification funding through the VW Settlement and a SB350 partnership with San Diego Gas & Electric.



Between calendar years 2014 and 2015,
the Airport Authority was able to reduce Authority-controlled GHG emissions by 0.5%


Strategic Energy Plan Provides Road Map

In 2016, San Diego International Airport (SAN) was recognized for its comprehensive energy management efforts with an "Energy Showcase Grand Champion Award" by San Diego Gas & Electric. These efforts are reflected in a recently-completed draft Strategic Energy Plan that provides a roadmap for establishing cleaner, more dependable, and cost-effective energy sources for SAN.

Although total airport energy use increased in 2016 mainly due to the addition of the new Rental Car Center, SAN's energy use intensity (measured on a per square foot basis) declined by 3 percent and is the lowest value since the Airport Authority began tracking this data. SAN's percent usage of renewable electricity in 2016 reached a record 44 percent.

Overall water use at SAN increased in 2016 and per passenger water use was calculated to be 4.3 gallons. This upward trend was likely caused by increased passenger volumes and the completion of the new Rental Car Center, which includes over 5 acres of landscaped bioswales.

In 2016, the Airport Authority also expanded its Air Conditioning Condensate Recycling Program to 14 passenger boarding bridges, collecting and reusing an estimated 103,000 gallons of condensate water (a 46 percent increase from 2015). The Airport Authority re-used this water for a variety of non-potable purposes such as dust control at the new Parking Plaza construction site. Water capture and reuse is one of the key strategies identified in SAN's draft Water Stewardship Plan to help holistically address water conservation, water quality, and flooding resilience.


As SAN works to better understand and manage its utility use, it is becoming apparent that more granular, real-time data is needed at the sub-facility and tenant levels. This would allow more targeted resource management strategies to be developed.

In addition, as the Airport Authority begins implementation of the Airport Development Plan, energy and water conservation projects will be competing with other priority projects for limited capital funds.

Looking Ahead

SAN's northside solar photovoltaic project (completed in early 2017) will increase the airport's total onsite renewable energy generation to 5.5 megawatts (equivalent to 1,500 homes' power for a year).

Through a private-public partnership, the Airport Authority will also test low-cost, web-enabled sensors as a means to broaden its utility information network.

Numerous energy and water improvement projects, which were envisioned in the Strategic Energy Plan and Water Stewardship Plan, will be further evaluated for potential inclusion in the Airport Authority's 5-year Capital Improvement Program.

A new "Green Concessions" program will be launched in the terminals to recognize and reward tenants' sustainable business practices.



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The Good Traveler Program Offsets Over 11 Million Air Miles

The Airport Authority has remained focused on both climate mitigation and adaptation. By the end of 2016, the Airport Authority's The Good Traveler program, which provides an opportunity for passengers and others to balance the impact of their travel, successfully offset over 11 million air miles and engaged over 10 regional partners.

The program was adopted by other airports during the year, such as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

To improve the resilience of San Diego International Airport (SAN) to climate change, the Airport Authority has actively pursued onsite power generation and water reuse, as demonstrated by the 5.5 megawatts of solar photovoltaic installed in its parking lots and rooftops and by the approximately 100,000-gallon storm water storage and reuse system in the Terminal 2 Parking Plaza, currently under construction. These projects and other climate adaptation strategies were identified and recommended in the recently-completed Strategic Energy Plan and Water Stewardship Plan, respectively.


One of SAN's greatest vulnerabilities to sea level rise and coastal flooding is related to off-airport access roads. Therefore, the Airport Authority must remain closely engaged on the topic with the City of San Diego, the Port District, and other agencies, which is accomplished through the airport's participation and leadership in the San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative and other forums.

SAN must also constantly stay informed and integrate ever-changing climate science and modeling tools into its decision-making. For example, the Airport Authority analyzed the latest Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS 3.0) for southern California in 2016 and determined that it aligned with the Water Stewardship Plan's existing sea level rise findings for the airport site.

Looking Ahead

In 2017, the Airport Authority will release a Request for Proposals for a third-party operator to administer, market, and grow The Good Traveler program. The program operator will also be tasked with providing cost-effective, quality carbon offsets to SAN and other participating airports, including opportunities for more locally-based offset projects.


Stewardship of the Vulnerable Least Tern

The Airport Authority has taken extensive measures to effectively manage wildlife at San Diego International Airport (SAN). Thirty-seven nests were documented at SAN in 2016 for the endangered California Least Tern, which lay eggs and raise chicks onsite from April to mid-September every year. This represents a 106% increase from the 18 nests reported during the 2015 season.

Over the last few seasons, the survival of the Least Tern appears to have been impacted by El Nino, as increased San Diego Bay and local ocean water temperatures led to a decline in the Least Terns' food sources.

The Airport Authority also updated its Wildlife Rescue Plan over the last year to coordinate the immediate response and rescue of injured and non-injured wildlife. The plan will help to address the increase in reported wildlife strikes in 2016. Finally, SAN's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program that prioritizes non-toxic methods to control pest populations was selected as one of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's "IPM Achievement Award" winners for 2016.


Increased aircraft operations and passenger growth will need to be accommodated within the airport's existing 661-acre footprint in a manner that doesn't impact the California Least Tern nesting habitat. As such, close collaboration between Airport Authority departments, tenants, and state and federal wildlife agencies is required to ensure continued protection of the Least Terns.

Looking Ahead

In 2017, appropriate Airport Authority staff will be trained by a wildlife rescue handling expert to serve as first responders under the new Wildlife Rescue Plan. SAN will also work with other agencies to remove an old FAA Remote Transmitting-Receiving Tower and old Coast Guard traffic signal poles that provide perch locations for Least Tern predators.


SAN Addressing Storm Water Runoff

San Diego International Airport (SAN) is tightly regulated for storm water under three different permits – the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, Industrial General Permit, and Construction General Permit.

The Airport Authority implemented numerous trainings, inspections, sampling events, and "best management practices" (BMPs) over the last year to monitor and minimize pollutant runoff from the site. New BMPs at SAN include over 5 acres of bioswales at the new Rental Car Center, which help to address storm water quality and quantity.

These bioswales were highlighted during a tour for the California Stormwater Quality Association's annual conference in San Diego in 2016. Over 50 conference attendees participated in the tour and learned about the design, construction, and maintenance of the bioretention ponds surrounding the Rental Car Center.

The bioswales and other BMPs helped the Airport Authority reduce zinc concentrations in runoff and meet numeric goals under the Industrial General Permit. Similarly, the average exceedance frequency of storm water samples decreased in 2016 continuing a multi-year downward trend.


Storm water remains one of the San Diego International Airport's most important environmental challenges. At the airport, the primary pollutants are zinc and copper, which originate from galvanized roofing and fencing and tire and brake pad wear, respectively.

In 2016, the Airport Authority developed an Exceedance Response Action Plan to help further reduce copper and zinc pollutants. Specific actions include increasing sweeping on the runway, taxiways, and airfield service roads, implementing green infrastructure and treatment systems, and conducting runway rubber removal and power washing.

Looking Ahead

Through its new Water Stewardship Plan, the Airport Authority is focused on capturing and reusing storm water. The Terminal 2 Parking Plaza, currently under construction, will include a storm water capture and reuse system that will help SAN meet strict water quality regulations, while saving over 2 million gallons of potable water. The Airport Authority is also developing a master drainage plan for the Terminal 1 redevelopment to assess larger-scale storm water capture and reuse opportunities.


Waste and Spills

San Diego International Airport (SAN) was recognized with a "Recycler of the Year Award" by the City of San Diego and a "Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award" by the California Environmental Protection Agency in 2016.

New waste management initiatives over the last year include a pilot project expanding SAN's food waste program to include post-consumer food scraps.  During the pilot, Airport Authority staff worked with all seven wait-service restaurants in the terminals, Flagship janitorial services, and the City of San Diego to train staff and to validate that the collected food waste meets strict contamination (i.e. mixing of trash and recyclables with food waste) avoidance requirements.

Look Ahead

The Airport Authority purchased a baler for thin-film plastic, which will be installed at its Central Receiving and Distribution Center in 2017. The equipment will allow SAN to collect and recycle palette shrink wrap. Also, the airport’s solid waste disposal and recycling facility is slated for improvements in the near future, helping make the waste collection and disposal process more efficient and safe.

In 2016, SAN's total amount of diverted materials was over 37,100 tons, mostly construction and demolition debris.

The Airport Authority also installed a new Hazardous Waste Storage Unit (90-day storage facility) in 2016 that will increase safety for managing hazardous waste prior to disposal. Specifically, the facility increases the security of waste being stored and reduces risks from accidental discharge, fire, explosion, vapor/fume emissions, and other potential issues.


The Airport Authority is working toward a zero waste goal, meaning at least 90 percent of waste is diverted from the landfill. As such, an ongoing challenge is finding new diversion opportunities for waste materials at SAN. The Airport Authority is working closely with the City of San Diego and other regional partners to help identify these opportunities and the necessary processing facilities for the various waste streams.