ANALYSIS: Connecting the dots with San Diego (part 2)

San Diego
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Read the first instalment of Flightglobal's two-part series on the San Diego airport that looks at its new flight to Tokyo and expanding domestic services here.

San Diego International airport is working to attract a plethora of new nonstop flights. While Asia is off its radar for new routes for at least the next few years, destinations in the southern and western USA as well as in Europe and Latin America are on its list.

Hampton Brown, director of air service development at the airport, says that San Diego is working to attract new domestic nonstop flights to south Florida - either Ft. Lauderdale or Miami - smaller western markets, for example Boise and Spokane, and to restore service to New Orleans, which ended after hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005.

"A lot of our [US] hub markets are running at over 90% annualised seat factor, so we need to make sure that we have enough capacity to maintain our convention business," he says. "That kind of business is very important for our region."

San Diego domestic routes, January 2013

Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

San Diego is looking east and south for new international service. Brown says that if British Airways' flight to London Heathrow continues to operate with an 85% annualised load factor during the next year and a half, the airport will begin looking for additional service across the Atlantic - especially as European carriers begin receiving the Boeing 787.

Air Berlin, Air France-KLM, LOT Polish Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways are among the carrier's in Europe that have orders for the 787, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database.

Logical possibilities for new service to Europe would be a flight on either Delta Air Lines or its SkyTeam partners Air France and KLM to their hubs in Amsterdam or Paris, or on either United Airlines or its Star Alliance partner Lufthansa to Frankfurt.

Latin America is another region of interest to San Diego. The airport has fewer flights to Mexico than facilities serving comparable metropolitan areas with close ties to the country because of the Tijuana airport, which is about 24km to the south, says Brown. He says that the airports have a "symbiotic" relationship with much of the Mexico-bound traffic departing from Tijuana.

Despite this relationship with its southern neighbour, Brown says that the San Diego airport would like a flight to a "geographically advantageous hub" in Central America or near South America.

AviancaTaca's hubs in Bogota, Colombia, and San Jose, Costa Rica, or Copa Airlines' hub in Panama City immediately come to mind.

The Philippines is one country in Asia that San Diego would support new flights to during the next few years. "We are committed to having direct service to Manila once that country comes back to [FAA] category one because of the large VFR [visiting friends and relatives] we have to the Philippines," says Brown.

Other than the Philippines, the airport is focused on supporting and developing JAL's new nonstop to Tokyo Narita until it achieves load factors that are in the "upper 80th percentile on an annualised basis", he says.

San Diego international routes, January 2013

Innovata FlightMaps Analytics

Space constraint

With growth comes the fact that there is a limit to how much the San Diego airport can expand. Keith Wilschetz, director of airport planning at San Diego, says that they anticipate that the runway will reach its operational capacity of 260,000 annual take-offs and landings by 2040 but that the terminal and landside facilities will reach capacity before that.

"Primary concerns are existing terminal 1, which is almost 50 years old, and a lack of available on-airport car parking," he says. "The airport authority is currently conducting a planning study, called the airport development plan, that is reviewing all airfield, terminal and landside facilities. It will produce a phased concept plan that will maximise all facilities to meet the operational capacity of the runway."

San Diego airport handled 17 million passengers in 2011 and it estimates that traffic will grow to as much as 33 million passengers by 2033.

Current projects include a 10-gate expansion to terminal 2, an overnight aircraft apron and a two-level roadway that are slated to open in the third quarter, and a consolidated rental car facility, new cargo buildings and a new fixed base operator that are expected to open in the second half of 2015.

San Diego Airport

Terminal 1 has 19 gates, terminal 2 has 22 gates plus a federal inspection services (FIS) facility for international arrivals, and the commuter terminal has four gates.

Wilschetz says that there are no plans to expand the boundaries of the airport or add a second runway. Past proposals to replace the airport with a greenfield facility or one at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar are no longer being considered.

San Diego airport is surrounded by the city and water with terrain at both ends of the runway, which limits operations by widebody jets. Operations are also limited by a curfew that bars flights between 23:30 and 06:30 daily.

Carlsbad's McClellan-Palomar airport about 48km north of San Diego International could offer some relief in the future. The airport only has flights to Los Angeles on United Express but upstart California Pacific Airlines has plans to serve Las Vegas, Oakland, Phoenix, Sacramento and San Jose (California) with Embraer 170s from the airfield.

California Pacific is awaiting US Federal Aviation Administration certification before it can begin flights. It previously planned to start operations in 2010.

Growth at Carlsbad will be limited for the foreseeable future due to the airport's 1,493m (4,897 foot) runway, which restricts the operation of larger aircraft including many popular Bombardier and Embraer regional jets.

"Carlsbad will have to play a role in the future of getting people from southern California to other places because we are a one runway airport," says Brown. "Anything Carlsbad can do to improve its network profile, the better."