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Airport Search Turning Counterproductive
San Diego's snipe hunt...

[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 3/23/06

San Diego’s everlasting search for a new airport grows tiresome. So unproductive has been the past half century of repetitious studies that many local citizens have become bored with it all. Others follow it mainly for its entertainment value.

Most folks from elsewhere have little occasion to pass through San Diego on the way to somewhere else because, well, you can’t get to somewhere else through here. Located as we are at the extreme southwest corner of the country, we just aren’t a convenient location for a transportation hub. Los Angeles, our nearby neighbor to the north, serves that function well enough, for which many of us here are grateful. Indeed, were it not for the insulating presence of Camp Pendleton, we would be a suburb of that sprawling giant.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

San Diego, blessed with superb climate, beautiful beaches and bay front, is a delightful vacation and convention destination. It’s a nice place in which to live, work and retire, also, if one is wealthy enough to be able to afford the housing. Visitors love the cozy airport, conveniently located downtown on the bay. It’s all part of the charm of San Diego, they say.

But the city movers and shakers are not content with this image. The see San Diego primarily as the seventh largest city in the United States and they want more growth along with an airport they feel is worthy of a big and growing city. Trouble is, San Diego probably doesn’t have that much more growth potential left and, in fact, lost population last year. The reasons are many. Land for building is scarce and very expensive. San Diego, despite its sizable population, is not a major market or corporate business center and is unlikely to become one. These factors combine to raise serious questions as to how much more airport San Diego really needs beyond what can be gained by expanding Lindberg Field and adding a second runway. Many experts have challenged the alleged need for the envisioned large, multi-runway facility more appropriate to America’s many transportation hubs.

But let us concede, for the sake of argument, that a new, much larger airport would be cost effective. Unfortunately, the only desirable potential sites, Camp Pendleton, Miramar and North Island, are not available, either for a new civilian airport or for joint military-civilian use. That has been made crystal clear on several occasions, most recently by Navy Secretary Donald Winter, in what was unfortunately perceived by sensitive local authorities as a “terse, drop dead” letter.

Perceptions and sensibilities aside, the reasons are irrefutable. These facilities are an integral part of national defense requirements and will be for the foreseeable future. Billions of tax dollars have been invested in infrastructure. The federal government is not about to walk away from this investment because some San Diego officials feel they need a major league airport. To do so would be not only poor resource management from a national standpoint, it would have a very adverse financial impact on the local economy especially if it prompted the Navy to relocate other assets to more hospitable communities.

Joint use is not an option, notwithstanding the gratuitous opinions of some local “experts”, apparently unfamiliar with modern military aviation. Joint use has worked only with similar aircraft types, e.g., military cargo aircraft and commercial airliners, or when one of the parties was a very limited user, such as a military reserve unit. These criteria do not apply here. Armed warplanes flown by relatively junior military pilots on training missions do not mix well with heavy civilian airline traffic.

There are other valid reasons precluding joint use. They include the security of the nuclear carriers, fuel and ammunition storage, proximity to military operations and the need to restrict base access when security conditions warrant. The safety issues alone should end talk of further study but, incredibly, they have not. Although two members of the airport Authority have sensibly recommended deletion of the military sites from further consideration, they were outvoted by members who cannot seem to take no for an answer. The San Diego Union-Tribune actually applauded this defiant behavior, referring to the Pentagon as “foes” in the city’s effort to find a new airport. Others, including two UCSD faculty members in an op-ed piece in the same newspaper, chimed in with criticism of the Navy for its “intransigence”. Intransigence? For citing defense needs and safety issues? Please!

The public should demand that the Airport Authority immediately cease further study of the military sites for three reasons beyond those stated by the Navy Secretary, to wit: (1) further study is a waste of time and money; (2) further study encourages the naïve belief that somebody is going to order the Navy to stop being stingy and give San Diego an airport and (3) further study is damaging what has been a very amiable relationship between a community and the Navy that put that community on the map in the first place and still accounts for 20% of the spending there. CRO

copyright 2006 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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