Green Terminals: Beautiful, sustainable and innovative

Posted: 9 October 2013 | Thella F. Bowens, President and CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority | No comments yet

Thella F. Bowens, President and CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, explains why The Green Build has revolutionised the region.

Thella F. Bowens, President and CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, explains why The Green Build has revolutionised the region.

On 13 August 2013, San Diego International Airport (SDIA) and airport operator, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, celebrated the grand opening of the largest expansion project in the airport’s history. Called The Green Build for the Airport Authority’s commitment to sustainability, as well as the project’s economic impact, it takes San Diego’s airport to a new level, with a host of highly desirable passenger amenities that make travelling through the city easier, faster and more enjoyable.

Efficiency was also a major theme for the expansion. San Diego is the busiest singlerunway airport in the U.S., serving 17.3 million passengers in 2012. But with just a 661-acre footprint, space is extremely limited and construction must be carefully planned to ensure that every square inch of the property is fully utilised. The Green Build made a number of improvements to ensure the available space was maximised to its full potential. With growth on the horizon (experts estimate that by 2035, 27 to 33 million passengers a year will travel through the airport), The Green Build will ensure SDIA can accommodate that increase and continue to provide a positive travelling experience for passengers.

Construction on The Green Build began in 2009 and four years on, the final product is an aesthetically beautiful, sustainable and highlyefficient project that has created significant economic benefits for the region.

Passenger benefits

The Green Build added 460,000 square feet of new terminal space to Terminal 2, including 10 new jet gates with more spacious hold rooms and seats equipped with built-in cup holders, USB ports and electrical outlets so passengers can easily charge electronics prior to their flights. New seating configurations that include cluster seating add variety so travellers aren’t always seated in straight rows. Free water bottle refilling stations provide a simple way for passengers to comply with Transportation Security Administration requirements and still stay hydrated without having to purchase water. The stations also automatically count the number of bottles that do not have to be recycled. And a post-security pet-relief area, complete with fire hydrant, adds convenience for those travelling with service animals or pets.

The centerpiece of the expansion is the 9,200 square-foot concessions core, called Sunset Cove. Featuring a wall of windows 51 feet high and 317 feet wide, Sunset Cove offers views of the airfield and if you’re lucky, a beautiful San Diego sunset! Passengers can sit, relax and grab a bite to eat from one of the numerous and varied restaurants or browse the various shops in Sunset Cove.

Pre-security, a spacious ticket lobby flooded with natural light offers 32 airline counter check-in positions and 10 self-service kiosks equipped with the latest technology. The use of a Common Use Passenger Processing System (CUPPS) enables passengers to check-in for any flight at any kiosk, regardless of airline, and enables airlines to operate from any check-in position, which is a real benefit for both travellers and staff.

The new security checkpoint improves the flow of passengers through the terminal; keeping lines and security wait times down. Up to 12 lanes can be opened during peak travel periods; a 100 per cent increase from the maximum of six lanes previously available. An unexpected benefit of the checkpoint design is the ability to watch as departing guests process and exit to the secure side of the terminal.

The construction has made arriving and departing from the airport easier as well, due to a number of roadway improvements. The airport’s first dual-level roadway, separating arriving and departing travellers, relieves kerb-front traffic congestion at Terminal 2, while enhanced kerbside check-in allows passengers to print boarding passes, check baggage and view gate information at one of 27 kerbside kiosks or 32 airline/Skycap counter check-in positions before even entering the terminal.

The roadway features a major architectural element, called the ‘Sky Sails Canopy’. This white covering over the check-in kerb was designed to mimic San Diego Convention Center’s white ‘sails’ and provides a stunning visual for those entering and exiting the airport.

And while not apparent to the everyday traveller, a number of airfield improvements have increased efficiency and decreased takeoff waiting times, especially during the early morning rush. The highlight of these improvements is a new remain-overnight (RON) aircraft parking area, which greatly enhances efficiency on the airfield by eliminating the need for aircraft to taxi across the runway to the gates each morning.

Airport art

The Green Build provides many amenities to passengers, but the airport is more than just a place to catch a plane. It’s the first thing people see when they land, and their last glimpse of the region as they leave. To that end, the Airport Authority has worked to integrate public art throughout the expansion, recognising the unique physical, social and economic contribution of the arts and culture.

The Authority’s Art Program policy calls for two per cent of the amount of construction costs of eligible projects to be dedicated to the integration of public art, which totaled $6 million for The Green Build. Several striking new art installations greet passengers in Terminal 2. The Taxonomy of a Cloud, created by artist Stuart Keeler, is an impressive sculpture suspended high above Sunset Cove. The piece explores the architecture of the cloud form, with a cloud structure made of aluminum tubing and a rain shower of 365 strands of Swarovski crystals sparkling within.

The Journey, the airport’s largest art installation, is a ribbon made of 38,000 LED lights spanning six feet wide by 700 feet long, created by Jim Campbell. As one looks up, several sequences of simple images such as people swimming, dancing and walking, and birds in flight, twinkle along the way.

Other pieces include Relativator, which transformed a working elevator into a piece of artwork; Sublimare, a representation of a kelp forest on the dual-level roadway; Connectocracy, located in the United Service Organization lounge, made up of 15 acid etched stainless steel houses; and ¿Dónde Está?, located in the entry to eight new restrooms, which incorporates video of local surfers, skateboarders and rollercoasters. Artists worked hand-in-hand with the construction teams to integrate the artwork into the project’s design rather than requiring the art to ‘fit’ into a predetermined space.

Green construction

The Green Build is beautiful but it is also environmentally-friendly. Prior to beginning the project’s construction, the Airport Authority committed to aim for a minimum of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council on all future construction projects. SDIA has gone above and beyond this goal for The Green Build, with the hope of achieving LEED gold certification. Official LEED status is currently under consideration and is expected by mid-2014.

In addition to the environmental features one would come to expect from a new construction project – for example solar panels, low-flow fixtures, integration of natural light and a variety of energy-saving features – one of The Green Build’s unique environmental achievements was the clean closure of a municipal landfill, which made room for the RON parking area. This was the first-ever landfill clean closure completed by an airport and helped maximise the usability of SDIA’s limited footprint.

Throughout construction, The Green Build stayed true to its name. Approximately 54,000 tons of construction material waste, such as concrete (more than 95 per cent) was diverted from landfill, with much of it either recycled or reused on site. Wherever possible, construction teams sourced materials from within 500 miles of the airport, minimising fuel usage and emissions in materials delivery. And construction teams used alternative-fuel equipment as part of the construction process, reducing on-site fuel consumption and emissions.

Smart construction

In addition to being green, construction of The Green Build was highly efficient. The Green Build is the first major design/build project to take place at SDIA. This construction model enabled the project to be completed years earlier than would have been possible with a traditional design-bid-build model. Additionally, the Airport Authority was able to capitalise on a serious economic down cycle to secure lower bids on contracts and construction materials.

The Airport Authority also benefited from smart financial planning – specifically two successful bond sales. The organisation was able to secure significantly low interest costs of 3.92 per cent (2013) and 4.38 per cent (2010); saving millions of dollars over the 40-year life of the bonds.

The project is expected to come in an impressive $45 million under budget with a total cost of approximately $907 million ($820 million for the project and the remainder in financing costs).

Boosting the local economy

As well as coming in under budget, the project has generated jobs for the local economy. Named in part for its economic impact, The Green Build was launched in the depth of the great recession, when San Diego desperately needed economic stimulus and jobs. It was the largest construction project in the region, creating a role for 7,000 workers over the life of the project. At peak construction, there were 1,000 workers on site on any given day.

In addition to jobs, The Green Build provided great opportunities for local and small businesses to win contracts with the airport. As any airport operator will confirm, this is easier said than done – airport construction projects are large and complex, and generally go to the big players. To change the game, the Airport Authority broke the major component contracts into smaller pieces and conducted extensive outreach through its Small Business Development Department. When the dust settled, $415 million in construction work (nearly half the entire project) went to local businesses and contracts totaling $118 million were awarded to small businesses. It was a win-win for the airport and the community.

Benefits all round

Many of the benefits of The Green Build are immediately available to travellers. But others are yet to come. Over the past several years, SDIA has proven itself to be a truly international airport, launching new routes to London, Tokyo, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Los Cabos, and new domestic services to Washington Reagan, Orlando, Kauai and Miami. Over the coming years, The Green Build will help to build on that.

The project was designed to accommodate new routes for San Diego, with several new gates configured for nextgeneration aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. As with any airport, the goal is to get people to where they want to go, and as the region grows, so will SDIA’s list of direct destinations.

Looking to the future

With The Green Build complete, what’s next for SDIA? Airports are often in a state of perpetual construction, and SDIA certainly falls into that category. Construction has begun on the north side of the airport on several projects to enhance efficiency. Already complete is a receiving and distribution centre that consolidated all deliveries to one location, instead of having numerous deliveries go directly to the terminals. This has the benefit of reducing traffic on the major thoroughfare in front of the airport.

Construction on a new rental car centre will also begin soon; this project will reduce traffic and make the rental car process easier and more streamlined for travellers. Other projects include a new fixed-base operator building for general aviation aircraft and multiple roadway improvements.

And the planning process is underway for the next phase of development at the airport. Called the Airport Development Plan, it will identify improvements to enable the airport to meet demand through 2035, most notably the future of Terminal 1, which was constructed in 1967 and is near the end of its useful life.

But for now, San Diego will enjoy the completion of this significant achievement. It’s no small feat to complete a near-billion dollar project on time and under budget. To do so while also delivering a sustainable, beautiful, job-generating project is the icing on the cake.


Thella F. Bowens has been President and CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Auth – ority, which owns and operates San Diego International Airport, since 2003. In this position, she is responsible for management of the Authority, its $145 million annual operating budget, $335 million capital budget and approximately 360 employees. Prior to this post, Thella was Senior Director of Aviation at the San Diego Unified Port District. She is also the Immediate Past Chair of ACI-NA.

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