Our Operational Strategy

Operate the airport in a safe, secure, environmentally sound, effective and efficient manner.


On November 13, 2017, the San Diego International Airport (SAN) officially signed the “Airports Sustainability Declaration.” The Airports Sustainability Declaration, which is voluntary and non-binding, calls for airports to develop, implement and expand initiatives that improve the sustainability and resilience of airports and their surrounding communities. To help achieve this outcome, the Declaration promotes four key principles – collaboration, transparency, innovation and engagement – and encourages partnerships between airports on a worldwide scale. The Declaration is also aligned with the 17 action areas of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by the United States and over 190 other countries in 2015. SAN is implementing a portfolio of policies and projects that support the Airports Sustainability Declaration and its main principles.

SAN signed the Declaration at The Airports Going Green Conference, an annual event organized by the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and the Chicago Department of Aviation. Over the past 10 years, the conference has become the industry's premier sustainability event that translates relevant trends in economic viability, natural resource protection, operational efficiency and social responsibility for the aviation sector. The conference was held for the first time outside of the United States in 2016 at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and to commemorate this milestone, conference organizers drafted an “Airports Sustainability Declaration” as a means to highlight the important leadership of airports. In 2016, almost twenty airports signed the Airports Sustainability Declaration, including San Francisco International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, London Heathrow Airport, and Aéroports de Montréal. In 2017, another Declaration signing ceremony occurred at the Airports Going Green Conference in Dallas, TX that included SAN, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Dallas Love Field, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Rwanda International Airport.

At the 2017 Airports Going Green Conference, SAN staff also served on the conference planning committee, moderated a panel and received honorable mention for the airport’s SAN Green Concessions Program and The Good Traveler carbon offset program.


2017 Snapshot

The Authority tracks and addresses air quality impacts and greenhouse gases (GHG) through its annual emissions inventory. Between calendar years 2015 and 2016, the Airport Authority was able to reduce total GHG emissions from sources under its control – such as facilities energy use and fleet fuel use (Scopes 1 & 2) – by 0.3 percent. This allowed the airport to be recertified in 2017 by the Airport Council International's Airport Carbon Accreditation program, which creates a framework that helps airports identify, manage and ultimately reduce their carbon emissions.

There were some specific efforts to improve air quality implemented in 2017 to reduce vehicle idling onsite and to continue the Authority fleet’s conversion to cleaner vehicles. More than 20 “no idling” signs were posted in the Cell Phone Parking Lot and Transportation Network Company Hold Lots to remind drivers to turn off their vehicles while waiting for their passengers to arrive.

The Authority was also presented with an award from the San Diego Regional Clean Cities Coalition for implementing ‘green fleet’ best practice strategies such as rightsizing, green fleet planning and using alternative fuels.


While the Airport Authority has made progress in reducing emissions under its direct control, indirect greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 3) associated with aircraft and ground transportation vehicles increased by approximately 7,900 metric tons between 2015 and 2016. As such, the Authority is seeking new opportunities with its business partners to facilitate emissions reductions, especially related to converting airline-owned ground support equipment (GSE) to alternative fuels.

Look Ahead

In 2018, the Airport Authority will be collaborating closely with San Diego Gas & Electric to further pursue the utility’s proposed installation of up to 45 new electric GSE chargers at SAN’s Terminal 2 under Senate Bill 350. The Authority will also be formally updating its Air Quality Management Plan and developing a new Clean Transportation Plan to identify new opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and improve local air quality through energy, transportation and other investments.



Between calendar years 2015 and 2016,
the Airport Authority was able to reduce Authority-controlled GHG emissions by 0.3 percent.


2017 Snapshot

Although the number of travelers at SAN increased above 22 million in 2017, there has been a decrease in both energy and water use per passenger. This can be attributed to a variety of energy and water savings projects that have been implemented around the airport. SAN’s northside solar arrays were energized in early 2017, increasing the Airport’s onsite solar generation capacity to 5.5 megawatts and overall renewable energy use (including grid-delivered ‘green’ electricity) to 51%. Recent energy-saving initiatives include optimization of the Central Utility Plant, LED lighting retrofits, and an ongoing calibration of the HVAC system.

A new Green Concessions education and recognition program was also launched in 2017 that works alongside concession tenants to identify areas where resource efficiency and conservation can be promoted without impacting tenants’ ability to perform their main functions. This type of program rewards the adoption of sustainability principles in concessions offerings and provides passengers with an opportunity to support concessions with sustainable practices. Twenty-three concession storefronts enrolled to participate in the program in its inaugural year.


A few years ago, the Authority worked with outside contractors to implement an Automated Infrastructure Monitoring and Management System (AIMMS) for the Terminal 2 West Expansion project, known as the Green Build. The system is now being expanded to monitor the new Terminal 2 Parking Plaza, Federal Inspection Station, and other airport assets. Challenges remain, however, with interfacing between the various existing systems and helping them “talk” to each other. The Airport Authority is considering Internet of things technologies to help bridge these system interface challenges.

Look Ahead

In 2018, an important energy management initiative will be a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), which was highlighted in SAN’s Strategic Energy Plan to shave the Airport’s peak energy demand and costs. For water savings, a storm water collection and reuse system will be commissioned with the new Parking Plaza to supply water to the Central Utility Plant’s cooling towers. With funding from the San Diego Foundation, the Authority will also be partnering with CleanTECH San Diego and SenseOps to install real-time, wireless sensors on collection tanks connected to some passenger boarding bridge A/C units to measure the volume, rate, and frequency of the condensate generation.


2017 Snapshot

The Authority received a FAA grant to develop a Sustainability Management Plan (SMP) that will ultimately comprise seven stand-alone plans. Currently, two plans (Strategic Energy Plan and Water Stewardship Plan) are already developed and being implemented. In 2017, an Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP) and a Clean Transportation Plan (CTP) were created; other plans that will be developed in future years include a Zero Waste Plan and a Climate Resilience Plan. In 2017, the Authority entered into an agreement with the Rocky Mountain Institute to administer, market and grow ‘The Good Traveler’ carbon offset program. The program has been adopted by other North American airports - Seattle-Tacoma International, Austin-Bergstrom International, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport – and has offset over 23 million air miles since its inception.


An ongoing focus for the Authority is to stay current with the newest climate data and models and integrate them into SAN’s sea level rise planning work. In 2017, the Authority successfully validated its previous sea level modeling with the new version 3.0 of the Coastal Storm Modeling System (COSMOS) for Southern California.

Looking Ahead

As mentioned, a Climate Resilience Plan will begin to be developed in 2018 and will build off the sea-level rise adaptation strategies already identified in SAN’s Water Stewardship Plan. The Authority will also pursue formal Level 3 certification under the Airport Carbon Accreditation program, which involves demonstrating partnerships with tenants to facilitate their greenhouse gas emission reductions (Scope 3).



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2017 Snapshot

The Authority has taken extensive measures to effectively manage wildlife at the airport. In 2017, staff members were trained to be active first responders by a wildlife rescue handling expert and effectively implement the Wildlife Rescue Plan. This plan coordinates the immediate response and rescue of injured and non-injured wildlife at the airport.

The California Least Tern continues to nest at SAN each season (April to mid-September), laying eggs and raising chicks within the airfield ovals. Twenty-four nests were documented at SAN in 2017 for the endangered seabird, representing a 35% decrease from the previous season, likely due to a decline in food sources in San Diego Bay that are suitable for Least Tern chicks.


As aircraft operations increase and passenger growth continues, SAN development and operations will need to remain vigilant about not impacting the California Least Tern nesting habitat. Close collaboration between Airport Authority departments, tenants, and state and federal wildlife agencies is required to ensure the continued protection of the Least Terns.

Look Ahead

In 2018, the Airport Authority will be replacing the 10-inch tall fence around the California Least Tern nesting ovals, which is designed to contain the chicks within their nesting area. The Authority will also continue to implement its Integrated Pest Management program to focus on non-toxic methods to control pest populations and protect human and environmental health.


2017 Snapshot

SAN is regulated for stormwater under three different permits – the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, Industrial General Permit, and Construction General Permit – and the average exceedance frequency of stormwater samples decreased in 2017 continuing a multi-year downward trend. In 2017, the Airport Authority finalized its Stormwater Master Plan to help achieve long-term improvements in water quality. This new plan and the overall Stormwater Management Program was highlighted in an issue of “Stormwater: Journal for Surface Water Quality Professions.”

The Authority also participated and presented at a stormwater capture and reuse workshop series hosted by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Water Reliability Coalition and the San Diego Foundation. The workshop highlighted the Airport’s new Terminal 2 Parking Plaza’s below-ground rainwater storage system that has a capacity of nearly 100,000 gallons and will capture almost 2 million gallons of rainwater per year for reuse at the Central Utility Plant. Finally, geolocation capability was added to the Airport’s environmental management system, “SANTrack,” to more accurately site stormwater violations and address issues in a timely manner.


Stormwater remains one of the Airport's most important environmental challenges with the primary pollutants of zinc and copper likely originating from galvanized roofing and fencing, and tire and brake pad wear respectively. As such, the Authority prepared and submitted to the state regulatory agency an Exceedance Response Action (ERA) Report in 2017 to help further reduce copper and zinc pollutants. Specific actions include increasing sweeping on the runway, taxiways, and airfield service roads, implementing green infrastructure and treatment systems and conducting runway rubber removal and airfield ramp area power washing.

Look Ahead

As noted above, the new ERA Report outlines Best Management Practices that will be implemented to further address copper and zinc sources onsite. One measure to achieve this reduction is to replace the brake pads of all Authority fleet vehicles in 2018 with copper-free brake pads to reduce the levels of copper particulate on the airfield. There are also new trash control permit amendments that require municipal, industrial and commercial sites to identify opportunities to reduce trash in their stormwater discharges and ultimately eliminate trash in the next 10 to 15 years. The Authority’s recent efforts to integrate stormwater capture and reuse systems into new capital projects will help SAN meet this new regulation, as well as mitigate flood conditions caused by storm surges and sea level rise.


2017 Snapshot

SAN was recognized once again with a "Recycler of the Year Award" during the City of San Diego’s 24th Annual Waste Reduction and Recycling Awards Ceremony. SAN received the first-ever “Outstanding Achievement Award” for demonstrating waste management innovation and leadership for over 10 years, helping the City of San Diego achieve its zero waste goals. The Airport Authority was also recognized by the California Resource Recovery Association for “Outstanding Construction and Demolition Award” and by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for innovative food recovery through food donations and composting.

A waste characterization study was also conducted in 2017, which includes sorting, weighing and photographing discarded materials, to better understand progress in diverting recyclable and compostable materials away from the landfill. Some opportunities to improve SAN’s diversion rates that were identified include right-sizing trash and recycling compactors in some airside areas, educating airlines and other business partners on recycling tips and reducing contamination of recycling.

Finally, although there was an increase in spills for 2017, these spills were not discharged into the stormwater conveyance systems and, therefore did not impact the San Diego Bay.


To improve the recycling rate of construction and demolition waste, Environmental Affairs recently collaborated with the Facilities Development Department to incorporate more robust waste management reporting into its capital project specifications. The updated specifications require contractors to submit monthly construction waste and recycling amounts with their invoices and includes definitions and sample waste management plan and progress reports.

Look Ahead

In 2018, the Airport Authority will embark on developing a formal Zero Waste Plan, that will identify strategies to divert at least 90% of Airport waste from landfills. The Authority will also be focusing on reusing furniture and other office parts as its West Wing Office facility is decommissioned.