San Diego’s Lindbergh Field Delays Gate Expansion
By CONNIE LEWIS
San Diego Business Journal
Plans to improve San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, including adding new gates at one of the terminals, have been put on indefinite hold because of the still-sluggish travel industry.
The gates were seen as a stopgap measure to relieve congestion over the next 10 years, or until the facility is relocated. But a 1.7 percent drop last year in the airport’s passenger count is prompting the delay, according to Thella Bowen, the airport’s executive director.
Construction of 10 gates at Terminal 2 was estimated to cost at least $75 million, with the airlines using their credit to foot part of the bill.
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority took control of Lindbergh in January after it was spun off from the San Diego Unified Port District. The authority’s board must recommend a site for relocating all or part of the airport’s operations. The recommendation will be put to a vote in a countywide election in November 2004, though it may be pushed to the 2006 election.
Bowen said that despite the decline in the passenger count last year, Lindbergh is trying to increase airline capacity. She cited the strength of the local economy as the main reason.
“We could do with larger aircraft having more seats and more long-haul markets serving more destinations,” she said, pointing to New York-based JetBlue Airways, a discount carrier slated to make its first nonstop flight from San Diego to New York on June 26.
She said the airport’s marketing staff is approaching other carriers on the possibility of routing larger jets and more non-stop flights to the city.
Meanwhile, air cargo rates have improved at Lindbergh. Air freight increased 12 percent last year, while mail routed by air rose 13.7 percent.
Revenue from the airport’s food concessions also increased. Although people without airline tickets aren’t permitted inside the concourse under new security rulings, passengers boarding flights now spend more time waiting inside the concourse and more money at the food courts, Bowen said.
The head of a citizens group advocating airport growth expressed concern that the airline industry’s current troubles could thwart future growth.
“The biggest problem the authority faces is trying to see how the airlines are going to emerge in terms of industry-wide restructuring,” said John Chalker, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Airport Progress in the 21st Century, also known as ASAP 21. “That has an impact on trying to project even near-term capital improvements, particularly when we’re watching the airlines that are going through restructuring ask for concessions.”