Building a Strong and Diverse Talent Pipeline

Goal: Employee Diversity, Recruitment, Retention, & Training – Develop leaders and a workforce aligned to the needs of the Airport Authority’s Strategic Plan and an inclusive environment that reflects the diversity of the community. [OSP]


Data Trends:

  • During CY2019, there were 410 employees working at the Airport Authority on average.
  • The percentage of female employees (versus male) is approximately 43%, which continues to be lower than the County population percentage of 50%.
  • The percentage of employees in minority ethnic groups remained relatively consistent between 2019 and previous years, except for increases in the number of employees with Asian and Hispanic heritage.
  • The number of employees who left the Airport Authority in 2019, was 34, with men having a slightly higher turnover rate than women.
  • In CY2019, approximately 63% of new hires were men, and 50% of new hires were between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.
  • The average time that each employee participated in Authority-sponsored training and professional development activities in 2019 increased to 10.5 hours, more than double previous reporting years’ averages.
Embracing Diversity

Building a diverse and robust talent pipeline within the Airport Authority is an essential factor in establishing an employee workforce that is committed and invested in the Airport Authority’s long-term goals and strategies.

 Embracing diverse perspectives and backgrounds serves as the foundation for all of the Airport Authority’s policies, practices, training, and programs. This commitment to diversity and inclusion is a core value, and an integral part of the Airport Authority’s five-year strategic plan with several initiatives focused on targeting diverse employees and leaders. For example, recruiting and hiring practices include prioritizing diverse candidate pools and ensuring a diverse interview panel. The Authority’s development program includes offers implicit bias training every two years, and regularly hosts cultural events on campus..

In the community, the Airport Authority participates in the San Diego Diversity Council and endorses the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.’s Inclusive Growth Initiative, which focuses on increasing the number of skilled workers across various demographics. The Airport Authority’s “Take Flight” program partners with local high schools, colleges and universities to expose diverse student populations to careers in the aviation field. The Authority also offers paid internships and partners with the San Diego Workforce Partnership to offer one-week high school externships for students in underprivileged communities.

From a workforce development standpoint, the Authority offers a Veterans Fellowship Program that helps transition veterans from active duty to the civilian workforce. Participants are employed full-time, receiving salary and benefits, gaining valuable work experience.

Sustainable employee engagement is a top priority in the current COVID-19 environment. The Airport Authority will leverage its learning and performance management systems to support staff development and facilitate effective communication in the present work environment. The Authority’s Wellness Program will offer new workshops, newsletters, campaigns, and its first virtual wellness fair. The program will focus its efforts on health education, promoting work-life balance, and building resiliency to ensure employees and their families are maintaining a healthy lifestyle amidst modified schedules and work environments.


Turnover rate among employees under 30 years old
Support for Employees During the Pandemic

The Airport Authority is committed to establishing an employee workforce that is invested and engaged in SAN’s mission. With the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Airport Authority has worked hard to accommodate the vastly different needs of a workforce suddenly working modified hours and/or working remotely.

Employee training programs pivoted to rely more heavily on e-learning modules on our Learning Management System (LMS), and video calling tools such as Skype and Zoom to facilitate instructor-led classes and webinars. New tools and systems have been utilized to help facilitate day-to-day remote work. Throughout this, we have learned a great deal about what skills our employees have, how they can contribute to organizational success, and ultimately what we can do to help further develop those skills to be applied to the Airport Authority’s goals and strategies.

The pandemic strained the Airport Authority’s resources in many ways, one of which was our ability to use outside consultants for specialized tasks and projects. In response, we have seen a great level of flexibility and teamwork from the employees of the Airport Authority. The willingness of employees to lend their expertise cross-departmentally is an exemplary show of our organizational values and the spirit of SAN.

Focus on Employee Wellness

SAN is committed to nurturing a healthy workforce. Countless studies have shown that employees who feel good and take the time to invest in their personal health and well-being perform at a higher level than those who don’t. This results in increased engagement and productivity in employees and decreased medical premiums and claims costs for the organization.

Both at work, and extra, after-hours activities are organized and encouraged by SAN’s Wellness Team, including group hikes on weekends for employees and their families; workshops on various topics such as financial health or meal planning; on-site weight management meetings; and quarterly challenges. As a busy and highly productive workforce, prior to COVID-19, the Authority offered on-site yoga classes and monthly wellness workshops, as well as provided on-site fitness areas available to all employees 24/7. During the pandemic, we have shifted our wellness programs to a virtual environment, offering noon-time yoga classes and wellness workshops by video.

Encouraging Employee Participation

Further, several incentive-based programs are developed throughout the year to encourage employee participation. This includes our challenges which are focused on all aspects of wellness and health, and range from fitness-style contests, to scavenger hunts, to participating in mini weekly challenges. This past year, nearly all employees participated in the Airport Authority-sponsored wellness program and completed an annual health screening. The Authority even received Gold Level Workplace Health Achievement recognition by the American Heart Association, a national recognition awarded every year to organizations for their implementation of quality workplace health programs and culture of health best practices.

The Wellness Program is developing brand new workshop topics and monthly awareness campaigns. Additionally, two new employee gyms will open when it is appropriate to do so:: one in the Facilities Management building and the other planned for the new Administration Building, tentatively slated to begin construction in spring 2021. These efforts will help continue our goals of supporting our employee’s holistic health and well-being.

Career Development a Major Focus at SAN

Every day, SAN employees carry out the Airport Authority’s mission and goals. In order to support our employees in this dynamic industry, our Career Development Program is focused on providing comprehensive and thoughtful trainings and events to help individuals grow professionally and personally. Each month the program highlights a different career development focus, and employs a range of training tools, such as instructor-led courses, e-learning modules, and different networking opportunities.

In fiscal year 2019, SAN employees participated in on average ten hours of training, nearly double the training hours from the previous year. Employees were able to attend scheduled instructor-led courses or opt for e-learning modules through our internal Learning Management System (LMS). This system makes it easy for employees to navigate through all available trainings; in addition, LMS records each course or module, creating a comprehensive training record for each employee.

Encouraging the Exchange of Ideas

Instructor-led or in-person events offer employees the opportunity to network and work with individuals they may not usually work with. Group work is heavily utilized to encourage the internal exchange of ideas. One example of an internal networking opportunity is the popular series “Lunch with a Leader” in which employees share a meal with a panel of leaders from across the organization, as the leaders discuss their career paths and share their insights.

An organization-wide job shadow program allows employees to spend extended periods – usually a number of months – working in a different department to gain a broader perspective of different jobs at the Airport Authority. This ensures diversity in our workforce capabilities and allows us to better adapt and adjust to new initiatives such as the ADP, in the long-term.

As a public entity, SAN is always mindful of using resources efficiently. We focus on empowering employees to learn new skills and develop their capabilities. The goal is for employees to have the ability to explore opportunities that interest them and to apply their skills successfully at SAN. Having highly trained and well-rounded employees helps us to better serve our customers and region.

SAN Continues to Focus on the Passenger Experience

Goal: Exceed our customers’ expectations by introducing innovative service and facility enhancements. [OSP]

Data Trends:
  • The J.D. Power Survey in 2019 showed SAN scoring 776 on the total customer satisfaction scale.
  • SAN has bested the average score for large airports in the J.D. Power Survey the last five years straight.

At San Diego International Airport, passenger satisfaction is a top priority. In fact, not only is it a prominent goal in our Organizational Strategic Plan (as evidenced above), it is also written right into our mission: “We will plan for and provide air transportation services to the region with safe, effective facilities that exceed our customer expectations.”

While there are many ways to measure success in this area, the Airport Authority in 2019 looked to the ubiquitous J.D. Power Survey. In the J.D. Power Survey’s 2019 results for North American Airports, SAN scored a total customer satisfaction score of 776, which is nine points higher than the average score for all Large-Hub airports. And while any airport can enjoy a good year here or there, SAN has had a higher score than the average Large-hub Airport in the J.D. Power Survey for the last five years consecutively.

While we pride ourselves on providing a first-class passenger experience, we acknowledge that is not always possible in the 53-year-old Terminal 1. That’s why the Airport Authority is advancing the Airport Development Plan (ADP), which would replace the existing Terminal 1 facility with a new, more modern and spacious facility featuring larger gate areas, more places to shop and eat, and more security checkpoint lanes.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Airport Authority has continued planning for the ADP. Built into the planning process are options to slow down, speed up, or even stop work completely so the financial impacts of moving forward can be carefully evaluated.

A New Brand, A New Promise

SAN in 2019 embarked on a new journey to ignite our brand and renew our commitment to providing a first-class experience for our customers. In fact, the new brand brought with it a bold new promise: We pledge to bring good feelings to everyone, nonstop. At SAN, we know we are the first feeling and last feeling that every passenger will experience – even if there were fewer passengers in the terminals this year.

Regional growth, new technology, and shifting markets have encouraged the the evolution of the San Diego International Airport brand over its 90+ year history. SAN has become a diverse airport family, comprised of many different tenants, roles and functions. In order to maintain a singular, strong brand, the airport launched “Good feelings, nonstop.” The embodiment of “Good feelings, nonstop” is a daily responsibility lived out in every aspect of the business - from quick, efficient service, to intuitive signage and information; from experiential artwork and friendly volunteers to innovations that bring new amenities to travelers; from small business programs to nationally recognized sustainability efforts. SAN has pledged to make people feel good about the airport and the region.

In addition to prudently advancing the Airport Development Plan (ADP), which will replace the outdated Terminal 1, as well as improve access and mobility in and around the airport, SAN will develop a customer experience report to facilitate the design of customer experiences that meet the flying traveler's needs and expectations, within the existing terminals and in the ADP.

Airport Arts Program Finds New Ways to Innovate

The Arts Program at San Diego International Airport is a major component of the customer experience. By exhibiting artwork and presenting programs that engage travelers in innovative, memorable and considerate experiences, the Arts Program provides patrons entertaining, enriching, and calming options during their travel. Whether through public art installations and amenities, performing arts offerings, or temporary exhibitions, the work of artists and arts organizations from the region and beyond is integrated into the airport environment at SAN.

San Diego International Airport began offering free arts tours to the public in 2019, led by trained volunteers from the Airport Ambassador program. Tours take place in the pre-security areas and highlight permanent public artworks and select displays from the Temporary Exhibition, “Forces of Nature,” featuring primarily local artists. Tours conclude with a stop at one of SAN’s ongoing concerts, where attendees enjoy music, dance and more from performers from throughout San Diego.

Engaging the Community

Additionally, Arts Program staff engaged new community partners through its ongoing DesignAHEAD initiative. In 2019, students from seven different South Bay high schools took part in the program with the support of teaching artists from National City-based non-profit ARTS (A Reason to Survive). Over the course of a semester, students designed unique seating solutions for the airport environment, which were exhibited in Terminal 2.

The Arts Program continued to use public art as a means of welcoming travelers to SAN, notably through the installation of a new mural by artist Jari WERC Alvarez, titled On the Map, which is on the east side of the Administration Building.. This piece celebrates San Diego’s many contributions to aviation history. Airport Authority staff played a role in selecting the. Before the end of 2020, the Arts Program will also install a new 144’ long mural on Admiral Boland Way by local artist Aaron Glasson that will highlight the unique architecture and environment features of the airport.

Adapting to the pandemic became a necessary focus for the Arts Program once the crisis began. Working immediately with the local arts and culture community on behalf of SAN, airport artists seized opportunities to support and facilitate impactful arts-driven responses to this challenging time. Whether creating hundreds of colorful masks, developing arts materials and programs for mental health, or beautifying local surroundings, SAN artists and staff kept busy for the betterment of all.

Notably, the Arts Program extended the 2019 Temporary Exhibition into 2020 at a cost savings to the Airport Authority, while still honoring all artist agreements and payments for both years. Likewise, the Performing Arts Residency program, featuring 2019 artists Beck+Col, transitioned completely to the digital domain. By visiting, any of our travelers or the general public can enjoy their alien operas or take vocal lessons from their lumpy monsters for the indefinite future. Incoming 2020 residency artist Margaret Noble, who specializes in sound performance art, will follow suit.

Going Behind the Scenes

Though the public arts tours have been suspended due to the pandemic, the Arts Program has initiated a series of virtual behind-the-scenes interviews between the Arts Ambassadors and selected artists who have created work in the airport’s public art collection. These videos can be found at

Finally, the Arts Program piloted a Film Program in partnership with the San Diego Film Consortium and other sponsors such as KPBS and Panasonic, to feature short films made in response to the pandemic. A curated selection of the over 1,000 films submitted is streamable at

In the coming fiscal year, the Arts Program will be heavily involved and focused on the Airport Development Plan. A lead artist will be chosen to join the Design-Build team to collaboratively influence the design of the planned new terminal. This partnership is a forward-thinking and innovative approach for the combination of art + building design. Additional commissioned public art projects and arts infrastructure will be included in the associated roadways, parking, and the new Administration Building.

Crafting a Memorable Experience for all Travelers

The Airport Authority strives to ensure that all passengers, regardless of ability, enjoy full access to SAN.

In October 2019, SAN in conjunction with JetBlue, TSA, and our concessions partners, hosted the third the Autism Tree Project Foundation (ATPF) Blue Horizons for Autism event. More than 88 parents and children participated in a scavenger hunt throughout the airport, to help familiarize autistic children with the airport environment. The families started pre-security, made their way through a specially designated TSA security checkpoint, and then walked throughout the terminal to concessions and gate areas. The highlight of the event was boarding a JetBlue plane and watching TV, a treat for everyone.

The ATPF was created to help build community awareness for autism. Its goal is to give children on the autism spectrum a voice and build a community of compassion towards the parents and families of children with autism. Throughout the years, ATPF has worked with SAN to assist families who will be traveling through the airport get familiarized and feel comfortable with the airport environment.

Ready, Pet GO!

SAN’s Ready, Pet, GO program was introduced in 2015 and has been an integral part of the SAN airport experience since its inception. SAN has 20 therapy dog teams who provide passengers with a welcome distraction from the sometimes stressful, tiresome, and long travel experience. Anytime the dogs are around, you will see smiles on everyone’s face.

SAN will continue to work with ATPF to familiarize families that have a child on the spectrum with the airport. While not possible in the immediate future, the hope is to conduct a large scale event with families when we can safely do so. With COVID-19 health and safety precautions, the Ready, Pet, GO dog teams have not been in the terminals but the hope is to bring them back when it is safe to do so.

Airport Emergency Plan Keeps SAN Prepared

Like all certified commercial airports, SAN is required by the FAA to keep and maintain an Airport Emergency Plan (AEP). SAN’s AEP outlines the procedures the airport must follow to plan for and respond to any number of emergency situations, including aircraft incidents, bomb threats, fires and even natural disasters. The AEP is made available to the airlines, air cargo operators, terminal tenants, Harbor Police, San Diego Fire, TSA, Customs & Border Protection, and neighbors and stakeholders such as the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Coast Guard, and the American Red Cross, among others.

The AEP also helps the airport plan for and conduct training scenarios, such as annual tabletop exercises and the triennial airfield disaster exercise, known as AIREX, which was slated to be conducted in April 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, AIREX was indefinitely postponed.

Planning for Business Continuity

With the rapid developments of COVID-19, Emergency Planning was tasked with overseeing the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) which facilitates ongoing business during these unprecedented times. Emergency Planning coordinates and facilitates weekly meetings with various San Diego County Regional Airport Authority department stakeholders through a new BCP COVID-19 Working Group. This Working Group is one of the ways that the Authority has been able to maintain critical air service for the region during the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, SAN has adapted to doing many things virtually. In fact, the Emergency Planning team conducted their first-ever virtual Emergency Operations Center (EOC) exercise in July 2020. The exercise was conducted over Zoom, and included the Policy Group as well as other key EOC positions. The scenario was a regional power outage, which provided the opportunity to create an After Action Report with lessons learned.

Airport Authority staff will adaptively manage the airport’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by closely monitoring and managing increased air travel demand to ensure continued alignment with federal and state health guidance and best practices. Further, with the indefinite postponement of AIREX, SAN is in contact with the FAA on guidance moving forward in order to conduct the exercise when it’s deemed possible.