Coastal Commission Gives Tentative Approval to Airport’s $3B Expansion of Terminal 1: 4X Current Size, 30 Gates and 40M Passengers

by on September 14, 2021 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

The California Coastal Commission has just given the San Diego International Airport the go-ahead to begin construction of the $3 billion “expansion” plan for Terminal 1. The expanded terminal will replace the current Terminal 1, built in 1967.

The tentatively-approved plan calls for the demolition of the existing 336,000-square-foot, 19-gate Terminal 1 building, and replacing it with a structure three times its size and designed to serve 40 million passengers by 2040. The new building will be 1.2 million-square-feet housing 30 gates. The airport’s record level of 25 million passengers was just reached in 2019.

Also a new 5,500-space parking garage is planned plus the relocation of the existing taxiway and construction of a second taxiway to allow for easier movement of arriving and departing aircraft.

The Coastal Commission’s approval was tentative in terms that it raised concerns about environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions, potential flooding due to sea level rise and increased traffic congestion. The Commission imposed a number of conditions designed to minimize the impacts of the project. Plus it leaned on the Airport to get it together on a mass transit connect.

Construction could begin in November, with the first 19 gates in the new terminal expected to open in 2025. The demolition of the old terminal would follow, with the additional 11 gates ready to debut by 2027.

According to U-T reporter Lori Weisberg:

The Coastal Commission staff noted its strong support of a direct transit connection to the airport, such as a people mover, which it said would go a long way toward easing inevitable traffic congestion. As a special condition, it is requiring the airport to identify the specific location it plans to set aside for a future on-airport transit station, to be generally located on the west side of the Terminal 1 parking structure.

In the short term, the commission specified that it wants the Airport Authority to follow through on its commitment to provide free shuttle sendee between the Old Town Transit Center and the airport. The shuttle, including a plan for its hours and frequency of operation, should be implemented no later than Dec. 1, the commission said. Airport Authority CEO Kim Becker told commissioners that the all-electric shuttles, which are being financed with airport funds, will launch sendee Nov. 21, with two to four buses at first.

Also, Weisberg reported:

“Two key hurdles have to be cleared before construction can start, said Dennis Probst, vice president of development for the airport”

  • The Airport Authority is awaiting expected approval by the Federal Aviation Administration of a federal-level environmental impact analysis.
  • In October, the Airport Authority is expected to approve two major design and construction contracts for the terminal, related roadways and airfield improvements.

Key to the success of the $3 billion project and the ability to handle 40 million passengers in twenty years “are a number of planned roadway improvements.”

  • a new three-lane airport access road from Laurel Street and North Harbor Drive that airport planners say would remove 45,000 vehicle trips per day from Harbor Drive.
  • The airport will also reserve right-of-way for a future three-lane outbound roadway.
  • The airport is also working with the San Diego Association of Governments and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System on “an ambitious plan to eventually deliver a high-speed transit connection to Terminals 1 and 2.”
  • The linchpin of bringing a people mover to the airport is development of a “Grand Central Station” that would likely be located on the Navy’s 70-acre Old Town Complex, commonly known as NAVWAR. The Navy and SANDAG have been jointly working on the project for some time, but it is not a done deal.

Weisberg quoted Coastal Commission Vice Chair Donne Brownsey, who “did not mince words in describing the current condition of San Diego’s Terminal 1.”

“I think I speak probably for a lot of travelers that fly in and out of the San Diego airport at my joy that you’re going to be building a new terminal. Don’t take this personally, but there’s only one way to describe San Diego airport terminal (1) on a Friday, which is a mosh pit — wall to wall people, not enough facilities. And let’s just say I’m very happy to know in the future there will be a new terminal in San Diego.”

“I realty see this as a super positive development. If you’ve ever flown in and out of Portland, it is so great because you just jump on their version of the metro and it’s just such a quick, easy and inexpensive and certainty a much better option in terms of greenhouse gases. And here you have proximity, which is realty positive.”

In its report to the commissioners, the staff noted that the Airport Authority had previously erred by commencing a number of projects on the redevelopment site without having first gotten commission approval. Among them were a 70,762-square-foot facility maintenance department building, a 3-million-gallon underground cistern, and conversion of a long-term public parking lot to employee parking.

Becker apologized to the commission for what she said were “missteps” stemming from a misinterpretation of the state Coastal Act.

“Upon learning of this, I immediately called for a comprehensive review of all of the authority’s capital projects and instructed our team to disclose our mistakes to the commission’s executive director,” Becker said. “I instituted new procedures in coordination with your staff to ensure this never happens again.”

Because of earlier violations by the staff of the Airport Authority stemming from a misinterpretation of the state Coastal Act, the Commission imposed some additional requirements:

  • the airport install electric vehicle charging ports at 5 percent of new parking stalls and
  • that it construct an additional 5 percent of parking stalls as EV-ready in the future;
  • to capture an additional 36 acres of stormwater from the development site, a move that will provide more water quality benefits than what would be normally required of such a development;
  • a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and a yearly report that calculates emissions resulting from the approved project and all measures taken to reduce net emissions to zero.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam September 14, 2021 at 10:54 am

A central location in the county is the only place we should be spending money on an airport. It is an absolute shame that the people of San Diego voted to keep it where it is.


sealintheSelkirks September 14, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Rolling the dice with MORE passengers and MORE monstrous jets flying in and out of that dangerous airport? I guess the officials in charge are not aware that the dice have no memory and being lucky is only temporary. Those of us who remember the PSA crash…

Not real bright, are they?



korla eaquinta September 14, 2021 at 2:32 pm

Significant and Unavoidable harm to humans as identified it the EIR is completely UNACCEPTABLE!!


Paul Webb September 15, 2021 at 2:39 pm

I generally have a lot of respect for comments by Seal and Korla, and I really respect the hard work that Korla puts in for the Peninsula planning board, but I kinda have to disagree.

I worked on the effort to relocate the airport back in the early 2000’s. I made presentations to numerous community groups, service clubs, community planning boards, etc. I even spent many evenings staffing a booth at the Del Mar Fair, and made contact with hundreds and hundreds of people from around the county. The two overwhelming but contradictory sentiments were, yes, we need a new airport but not near me; and no, the airport is just fine where it is. The vote to move the airport to Miramar was not close, so the mandate was to keep it where it is.

So, then, what is the alternative? We have no alternative to air travel for long distance travel, so we have to have an airport. Terminal 1 definitely needs replacement. Many don’t remember but the original T1 had single story rotundas featuring atria in the middle and with boarding via boarding stairs. You walked out onto the apron and climbed stairs to the plane. The rotundas were expanded, a second story was added and boarding bridges were added to facility passenger boarding. Many other additions and improvements were made over the years (the airport even built a new women’s restroom on what had originally been the roof of T1 East!), but you reach a point where there is nothing left to do to make the buildings work with today’s passenger loads, and replacement is necessary.

I agree that the airport is probably building more capacity than it needs, given the restrictions of the single runway, but replacement will be good for both San Diegans and our visitors. I always dread having to fly out of T1 East because of the crowding, lack of seats, etc. I’m assuming that I will start flying again someday, and will still have to put up with really poor conditions for several years, but I do look forward to a new replacement terminal.

With regard to Seal’s comments on safety, I’d as the question, “what do you mean by safety?” I vividly remember PSA 182, and I knew people who were on that plane. That said, there has never been a fatality in the modern era at SDIA. PSA flight 182 was the result of a student pilot “under the hood”, i.e., not using visual flight rules and having vision restricted, practicing instrument flight, flying into the other plane. PSA 182 likely could not happen today because of the changes in procedures stemming from that and other accidents that severely restrict how airplanes move through the skies over urban areas.

SDIA does have a difficult approach, but I have flown into airports that were actually frightening – Paro airport comes to mind most vividly, but there are a lot of airports I have flown to/from in southeast Asia and other developing areas that do not have the professionalism of US airport staff and whose skies are not monitored and restricted like those here. And, after reading the really scary details of pilot training and cockpit procedures of the airlines involved in the recent 737Max airplanes, I will definitely have second thoughts about flying in some countries and on some airlines that do not meet the standards of US airlines. Even the cockpit procedures of airlines from some more advanced countries can be terrifying, like what happened in the cockpit of the Asiana flight that crashed at SFO.


Greg September 17, 2021 at 11:01 am

Excellent comment Paul. It has been interesting seeing houses come up for sale in OB and Loma Portal under the flight path during this period of reduced air traffic after reading the San Diego Airport’s plans for expansion and increased flights. Sell those homes ASAP while it’s relatively quiet before things really get loud in the next coming decades. This is the opportunity.


sealintheSelkirks September 17, 2021 at 3:14 pm

Thanks for the compliment, Paul, even as we disagree on this proposal.

Your statement back isn’t exactly about the point I was trying to make which is it only takes once to change that statistic. Not just a ‘student pilot’ being the worry, though. The Boeing MAX debacle has certainly focused the public interest on trusting corporations to build safer planes instead of focusing on profit. Which of course continues to be problematical at best.

But why don’t you consider PSA 182 ‘the modern era?’ It isn’t like it was a prop plane, it was a jet. Maybe not as computer-dependent nor certainly as complex which definitely creates its own vulnerabilities, but being a jet certainly puts it in the modern era!

As everywhere under the flight paths continues to increase in human population and building density with no end in sight, the next jet that hits a neighborhood (keep rolling those dice!) will likely have a far higher death toll just because there will be more people under it. A full fuel & passenger load take-off over OB or Pt. Loma in the larger jets than 182 that are being used now, anywhere it hits… And they want to put even more daily flights in and out? I spent my first 33 years under those flight paths in OB & MB. That alone does not sound like a well thought-out proposal. Ouch.

Move the airport? Nah, it won’t be, obviously. I would think that another or even larger crash might be in the ‘acceptable losses’ category due to the economics and politics surrounding it staying where it is. Sort of like Ford and the Pinto Fireball gas tank decision…payout insurance vs cost of moving the airport. Which outweighs the other.

I didn’t know anybody on the plane like you did but I was a few blocks away when it hit the ground at a pot dealer’s house. I was one of the young people on a skateboard that showed up almost immediately, before the cops. Bad pictures in my head, dude.



Paul Webb September 17, 2021 at 4:14 pm

Seal, I am truly sorry that you had that experience at PSA 182’s ground zero. That had to be a horrifying experience, one I hope never to share.

I wasn’t referring to PSA 182 as not part of the modern era. I was referring more or less to post-WWII aviation, which generally has proven to be more safe than prior eras.

I live in OB and I worked for the airport prior to retiring. I have lived in both worlds. Do I wish OB was quieter? Yes. Do I want to live somewhere else? No.

The thing is that PSA 182 really wasn’t the result of the airport or its location. Yes, it happened on approach to SDIA, but pretty much every commercial air service airport in the US is located such that planes will be flying over populated, oft times heavily populated areas. Does that make them all unsafe?

As I pointed on in my previous comment, something good resulted from the PSA and other crashes. After PSA 182, the area around SDIA was designated a Terminal Control Area, meaning that any aircraft entering into the TCA had to be under the control of TRACON. The airspace was redesigned subsequently and is now known as Class B airspace which again, places airplanes under TRACON until handed off to the tower. To enter into Class B airspace, a pilot must get specific clearance from TRACON, and the airplane must have a unique transponder squawk code. It would be very difficult and probably deliberate for a GA aircraft to collide with a commercial airliner as happened in the PSA 182 incident.

Do I worry about crashes on either an approach or departure at SDIA, well certainly. If there is an incident on a RWY 9 approach (instrument landing), I’ll be among the first to know. An engine flame out and restart on a RWY 27 departure a year or two ago really got my attention, as it did a lot of people who commented either here, or next door, I forget which.

Again I ask, if we don’t move the airport, what’s the alternative? Stick with a 55 year old terminal that is undersized for the number of passengers or modernize the facilities?

BTW, I really wish I lived in a world where we could do something like France has proposed and prohibit commercial air service for flights of two hours or less, but lacking adequate rail service it’s just not going to happen.


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