Parts of San Diego International Airport have been under construction for decades as the Airport Authority strives to accommodate passenger growth while providing the most up-to-date facilities and amenities. In fact, the inside joke is that the definition of an airport is “a construction site with a runway.”


Record passenger growth for the past five years in a row has only heightened the need to replace Terminal 1, which was built more than five decades ago. In the year it opened, 1967, the terminal served about 2.5 million passengers. In 2018, it served 12 million.

Terminal 1 is small and has no post-security connections between concourses. It is also undersized in terms of gate areas, rest rooms, and concession spaces. The good news is that there is widespread agreement in the community and among the airport’s regional partner agencies on the need for Terminal 1 to be replaced as soon as possible. The Airport Authority is addressing this need with the Airport Development Plan (ADP) – the Airport Authority’s planning effort to determine the future facility needs at SAN.

The Airport Authority took several major steps in advancing the ADP in 2018, including releasing the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).

The centerpiece of the ADP is, of course, the replacement of Terminal 1 with an attractive, modern, and more efficient facility with up to 30 gates. The existing Terminal 1 has only 19. The new terminal will include more gate seating, restaurants and shops, as well as additional security checkpoints with more lanes. The plan also includes an interior passageway, post-security, connecting the new terminal to the existing Terminal 2 East. This will eliminate the need to pass through security a second time when moving between terminals.

The new Terminal 1 and other ADP-related buildings will achieve at least LEED-Silver certification (or equivalent certification for other types of infrastructure). The ADP calls for a new mobility corridor to be built on airport property that connects Laurel Street and North Harbor Drive directly with the airport, with no traffic lights. The dedicated access road and accompanying multi-use pedestrian and bicycle path would remove an estimated 45,000 cars per day from Harbor Drive. This would free up space on North Harbor Drive for potential Rapid Bus or light rail transit opportunities. The plan also calls for a dual-level roadway in front of the new terminal to separate arriving and departing passenger traffic, similar to Terminal 2.

There will also be a series of airfield improvements intended to improve efficiency and sustainability. The new Terminal 1’s more linear design, as well as the new Taxiway A, will help reduce aircraft taxiing time (resulting in less emissions).


All new gates will be fully outfitted with chargers for electric Ground Support Equipment, such as baggage carts. Further, a hydrant fueling system will remove the need for trucks to deliver fuel to aircraft (resulting in less emissions and flight delays).

While nearly everyone agrees that the Terminal 1 replacement is long overdue, the Airport Authority received a number of comments to the DEIR related to how passengers access the airport. In response, the Airport Authority spent a lot of time talking to people – and listening – to get a better idea of what the community needs in this project.

That dialogue has resulted in some significant refinements that make the ADP an overall stronger project. The refinements include a reduction in the size of the planned parking structure that will create room for a designated transit station area. This facility will serve to connect a new regional transit system to the airport terminal area. The Airport Authority is committed to working with SANDAG and other regional partners to make a new airport transit connection a reality, both by contributing financially to offsite improvements (pending FAA approval of the use of airport funds) and by accommodating a transit connection onsite.

In addition, the Airport Authority has set aside right of way for outbound lanes, which could be added to the on-airport roadway, further reducing traffic on North Harbor Drive.


The Airport Authority has also updated the passenger forecast in the DEIR to be sure the planned improvements adequately accommodate travel demand for decades to come.

The latest forecast for SAN, based on 2018 data, shows that a larger, more modern Terminal 1 is needed as soon as possible to ensure a comfortable, convenient, and efficient passenger experience. If Terminal 1 is not replaced, its lack of amenities and dated (pre-9/11) layout will force the traveling public into a crowded, inefficient facility that cannot provide the standard of customer care our passengers expect and deserve.

The airport’s capacity is limited by the airport’s single runway, not by the size of its terminals. The runway itself can only accommodate so many take-offs and landings.

While the new forecast shows the airport approaching capacity faster than the previous forecast indicated, it’s important to note that an airport’s useful life does not end when it reaches capacity. It just becomes a very busy place and it’s our job to manage that with safe, modern, and efficient facilities for our customers.

The Airport Authority intends to recirculate the DEIR for a new round of public comment this year, in light of all the project refinements. In addition, SAN is updating the project to be sure it aligns with the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan consistency checklist.

The airport is also pursuing a plan to bring passengers via shuttles directly from the Old Town Transit Center to the airport. Additionally, the Airport Authority is working with MTS on proposed changes to the 992 bus service – which already carries more than 1,100 people to and from the airport each day – to make it more efficient for air travelers. Potential changes include:

  • A rebranding of the route to make it clear that the bus goes to the airport.
  • Where possible, giving the bus signal-light priority and also a dedicated lane.
  • Increasing the frequency of the service and eliminating non-airport stops.

Further, the Airport Authority is drafting a new sea-level rise resilience plan that addresses the need for more ambitious stormwater capture and reuse, something already in place at the new Terminal 2 Parking Plaza. A second stormwater capture system is currently under construction on the north side of the runway, and a third system is contemplated as part of the ADP.

As far as timing goes, the goal is to certify the final EIR by the end of the year. The Coastal Commission process follows, and if all goes as planned, groundbreaking will occur in 2021, with the first phase opening by 2024.

Improving Air Quality While Reducing Emissions

2019 Snapshot

Through its aggressive pursuit of its sustainability goals, SAN successfully achieved the Carbon Neutrality level under the Airports Council International's Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) program. The third-party verified program is a framework that helps airports identify, manage and ultimately reduce their carbon emissions. SAN is only the 2nd airport in North America to reach an ACA Level 3+ designation of Carbon Neutrality. This certification denotes SAN is successfully:

  • Completing annual carbon emission inventories (which are third-party verified)
  • Effectively engaging with airlines, ground transportation operators and other business partners to help reduce onsite carbon emissions
  • Reducing carbon emissions for areas under the Airport Authority’s direct control, and offsetting the Airport's remaining direct carbon emissions
In 2018, SAN was certified at ‘Level 3’ under the ACA program, acknowledging the Airport Authority is effectively partnering with its business partners – such as airlines, concessions, and ground transportation operators – to lower their emissions at the Airport. For the previous two years, SAN was certified at ‘Level 2,’ successfully implementing a carbon management plan and continuing to reduce emissions for areas under its control.

SAN’s team reached the designation of Carbon Neutrality more than two years ahead of the goal outlined in the Airport Authority's Five-Year Strategic Plan.

15.2% Decrease

In Greenhouse Gas

Although SAN realized a 15.2 percent decrease in Authority‐controlled greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with aircraft and ground transportation vehicles significantly increased (over 21,000 metric tons of increased tenant/third‐party emissions) mainly due to the growing levels of aircraft operations and passenger volumes.

The Authority plans to install additional airside and landside electric vehicle chargers in collaboration with San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) via its Senate Bill 350 and Power Your Drive programs. The Airport Authority actively pursued ACA Level 3+ certification by measures such as offsetting its Scope 1, 2, and staff business travel emissions.

Conserving Two Precious Resources: Energy & Water

2018 Snapshot

The Airport Authority took major steps to conserve energy and water in 2018.

The Airport Authority entered into SDG&E’s green tariff program called “EcoChoice” that provides expanded grid-delivered renewable energy to customers and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the broader San Diego region. The Authority purchased over 25 million kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity via EcoChoice, which when combined with the 5.5 megawatts of on-site photovoltaic solar power generation, allowed the Airport Authority to meet approximately 85 percent of SAN’s electricity needs with renewable sources (a 34 percent increase from 2017).

SAN also had an approximately 5 percent lower energy use intensity, which is measured in terms of energy usage per passenger, compared to the previous year. Two particular projects that helped contribute to this energy efficiency improvement were the airfield’s conversion to 100 percent LED lighting and a HVAC retro-commissioning project.

In terms of water conservation, the new stormwater capture and reuse facility associated with the Terminal 2 Parking Plaza captured more than 380,00 gallons of rainwater in 2018 – and an additional 1.2 million so far in 2019 – that offset potable water use for the airport’s Central Utility Plant.

1.6 Million

Gallons of Rainwater Captured

Although the 2018 energy use intensity decreased compared to 2017, water use intensity increased by 5 percent. It is hoped that the planned expansion of the airport’s stormwater capture and reuse system with a new 3-million gallon storage tank will ultimately lower SAN’s water use intensity.

The Airport Authority will continue its energy management leadership with a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), which will shave peak demand and realize electricity savings. A chilled water plant optimization project, a Terminal 2 West LED lighting conversion, and expansion of the airport’s electrical sub‐metering program will be pursued to reduce energy use and costs.

Climate Impacts Addressed by SAN Programs

2018 Snapshot

SAN’s Good Traveler Program has accomplished much since its inception in 2015, and has now offset the carbon emissions from more than 500 million miles of travel. The program offer travelers a quick and easy way to make their air travel more sustainable.

Today, the program is managed by the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute and includes San Diego International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport. At SAN, seven new concession storefronts began selling carbon offsets to passengers as part of their involvement in the Airport Authority’s “SAN Green Concessions Program.”

In 2018, the Authority also participated in the Port of San Diego’s Sea Level Rise (SLR) Ad Hoc Committee meetings for San Diego Bay. Agencies represented on the committee included the U.S. Navy, City of Coronado, City of San Diego, City of Chula Vista, City of Imperial Beach, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and SANDAG. This involvement helped to inform the Airport Authority’s development of a comprehensive Climate Resilience Plan for San Diego International Airport, including preliminary SLR mapping for SAN that uses the latest state guidance and refined site elevation data.

A consistent challenge in developing long-term climate resilience plans is varying levels of uncertainty in the climate models. For example, the potential flooding impacts from sea level rise are drastically different depending on the probability assumptions used and, thus, would lead to much different adaptation strategies.

In 2019, the Authority will implement its Climate Resilience Plan to guide the airport’s response to potentially higher sea levels, more intense rainfall, and more extreme heat in order to help minimize these climate stressors in the future. New capital projects will be informed by this plan. For example, some buildings will be built on slightly higher foundations to add resiliency to sea-level rise.

Warmer Water Temperatures Depressing Least Tern Population at SAN

2018 Snapshot

The California Least Tern continues to nest at SAN each season (April to mid-September), laying eggs and raising chicks within the airfield ovals. In 2018, a total of 18 nests (34 eggs) were documented at SAN. This is a 25 percent decrease from the previous season for this endangered seabird. Warmer offshore waters push anchovies (one of the birds’ main food sources) into deeper waters, making it more difficult for adult Terns to find food for their growing chicks.

Although Least Tern numbers are down across the entire region, the fledgling per pair ratio at SAN continues to be among the highest in the state.

Effective wildlife management helps to deter birds on and around the airport, which equates to safer air travel. In 2018, there was nearly a 50 percent reduction in reported wildlife strikes at SAN, from 1.38 to 0.8 per 10,000 aircraft movements. One of the important strategies for airport wildlife management is educating new and existing employees. All badged employees at the airport need to pass a mandatory training in order to begin and continue employment, which includes information regarding proper wildlife management. SAN also repaved the north side vehicle service road, which helped to eliminate vegetation growth and roosting by various bird species.

As the airport sees growth in operations, and prepares for major construction activities related to the proposed Airport Development Plan, a main challenge will be maintaining construction schedules and accommodating more and larger aircraft during the nesting season. The airport’s close proximity to San Diego Bay attracts shoreline and waterfowl specifies to the airfield, requiring ever-vigilant wildlife management practices.

Working to accommodate larger aircraft at SAN, the Airport Authority will be evaluating the effects of Group V aircraft on Taxiway B and the proximity to the Least Terns.

SAN Stormwater Management System Captures more than 1.6 Million Gallons in Less than a Year

2018 Snapshot

To proactively address stormwater issues, the Airport Authority opened a new three-story Parking Plaza in front of Terminal 2, which featured a below-ground stormwater storage system with a capacity of nearly 100,000 gallons. The Parking Plaza can capture and reuse this rainwater for the Airport’s Central Utility Plan, which manages air temperatures in the terminals. In its first three months, the system harvested over 380,000 gallons of stormwater, which otherwise would have been discharged into San Diego Bay. To date, that total is 1.6 million gallons.

Another new stormwater best management practice implemented in 2018 was the replacement of brake pads for all eligible Airport Authority fleet vehicles with a copper-free version. This will help reduce the levels of copper particulate on the airfield.

Approximately 90 percent of the SAN property is covered by impermeable surfaces consisting mainly of buildings and paved areas. Therefore, the close proximity to the bay makes runoff a significant challenge.

The Airport Authority is moving forward with expanding its stormwater capture and reuse system in 2019 with a new 3-million gallon storage tank on the airport’s north side. The Authority will also submit an application to seek State of California Prop 1 Grant funds to help offset the construction costs for additional storage in the future.

SAN Shines When it Comes to Recycling, Food Waste Diversion

2018 Snapshot

SAN was recognized once again with a “Recycler of the Year Award” during the City of San Diego’s 25th Annual Waste Reduction and Recycling Awards ceremony. It is the 14th time the Airport has received the award. The Airport Authority was also awarded a 2018 EMIES UnWasted Food Award by the San Diego Food System Alliance. The award highlighted the myriad programs to pursue zero waste.

To further improve waste diversion, proper data collection is needed to address areas of improvement and track trends. As such, a more efficient tracking system was deployed in 2018 to help ensure that at least 90 percent of construction and demolition (C&D) waste is diverted from the landfill. In 2018, a total of 50,832 tons of C&D waste was diverted from the landfill.

As passenger volumes continue to grow, the amount of trash also increases.

The Airport Authority is working to finalize a Zero Waste Plan that will identify strategies to divert at least 90 percent of airport waste from landfills. Research is also being conducted to build a new central waste facility in the Terminal 1 replacement project to accommodate the increase in waste and future diversion of more materials.