Busiest, most difficult single runway in world
by Guest commentary Lance Murphy
Published - 09/20/07 - 08:38 AM | 8518 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I recently spoke with the new Airport Authority Board members at their Sept. 6 meeting. My comments addressed the agenda item entitled "Airport Facilities Strategic Plan Guiding Principles." It is a concept promoted by directors Alan Bersin and Bob Watkins, two of the three members of the Airport Executive Committee.

1. The failure of Proposition A did not mean that the Airport Authority should abort all efforts to relocate Lindbergh Field to a more appropriate location.

2. Guiding Principle #7 - "Develop an Airport that Maximizes Airfield Capacity" is unsupportable and unsafe.

I would love for there to be a simple, elegant and politically acceptable solution to this very difficult airport problem. However, this new strategy as defined by these "guiding principles" is not supported in any manner by tested analysis or published studies. To the contrary, the latest $20-plus million relocation study began its executive summary with the following statement:

"As San Diego County's population grows and demand for air transportation increases, SDIA will simply not be able to meet the demand." (Ref: June 2003 ATAP Executive Summary - Ludrum & Brown )

The 2006 failure of Proposition A did not end site relocation "“ it only proved that voters were not provided a compelling case to displace the Marines at Miramar. If the board wants to disregard all prior professional advice they must first find an expert who will demonstrate the 30 previous reports and experts were inept or misinformed. This new course of action has failure written all over it.

My second major issue is the catastrophic risk of the new policy "” maximize Lindbergh or "We're building a new airport "” at Lindbergh Field" (Alan Bersin, 2 Sept. 2007, San Diego Union Tribune). In fact, this plan to have Lindbergh expanded up to its runway capacity will create a unique and unsafe situation that has never been tried before.

San Diego is currently the second busiest runway in the world "” second only to Gatwick in London. We should note that Gatwick has none of the obstacles or limited runway length that we find at Lindbergh. Gatwick has a runway length of 10,900 feet, while Lindbergh has a usable landing surface of 7,600 feet. We don't even have an automated landing or ILS in our dominant direction on Runway 27, while Gatwick has the latest equipment for fully automated landings. It's not that we can't pay for such a system, but that our extremely steep and obstructed approach makes it impossible. So, here we are with the busiest, most difficult single runway in the world "” also in the busiest airspace in the world. And now we're witnessing the airport board propose we do everything to maximize the stress on this single runway and its human participants.

In this case, the "system" is the entire airport, and it is proposed we enhance, with $650 million, improvements to the non-runway "elements," including new terminal gates, added taxiways, more aircraft parking, more automobile parking and additional roadways. All these incremental improvements will remove those "elements" from ever being the capacity constraint. Therefore, the short, obstructed runway becomes the sole limitation of the airport. It is a simple matter of unprecedented stress on the pilots and the FAA flight controllers "“ humans "” to maximize their production in terms of takeoffs and landings; sequenced like a continuous ballet of airliners.

An appropriate analogy may be to imagine your neighborhood grocery store. It would be like the store owner choosing to expand everything to increase his sales "” everything except the checkout registers. He would add parking, wider aisles, deeper shelves; all to serve his growing list of customers. In this analogy there is only one grocery store in town. Now visualize the stress at checkout stands as the clerks try to keep up with all the demand. The good news is that nobody gets killed in a grocery store. Unfortunately, we're not running a grocery store.

It is easy and convenient to say that the increased risk is managed by the FAA and that they have procedures to ensure safety of the planes, passengers and the residents surrounding the airport. This "maximization" has never been done before and we have all heard of the near-misses and human failures in aviation around the world.

"A New Airport at Lindbergh Field" is a catchy line, but it just doesn't work.

- Lance Murphy is a Peninsula Community Planning Board representative to the Airport Authority's Noise Advisory Committee.
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