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Businessexcellence September 07 4 Thella F. Bowens Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College of Columbia University, followed by graduate work at the University of North Texas and University of Missouri-Kansas City. Thirty years’ experience in public administration, with the last 18 years in aviation, including a period as Deputy Executive Director of Kansas City International Airport and the city’s two general aviation airports. Seven years as Director of Aviation for San Diego Unified Port District, until San Diego County Regional Airport Authority was created in March 2003, since when she has been its President and CEO. Member of the boards of the National Conflict Resolution Center, the San Diego World Trade Center, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Airports Council International—North America, and the American Association of Airport Executives Policy Review Committee. Flight plan Thella Bowens, CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, tells Martin Ashcroft about the Airport’s Master Plan for growth, despite serious constraints on its future capacity San Diego International Airport has a unique history and some unique present day circumstances. In 1927, Charles A Lindbergh took off in The Spirit of St Louis from Dutch Flats, just north of the current airport, on the first leg of the journey that would end with his becoming the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. The following year, The San Diego airfield opened on Pacific Highway and was dedicated in his honor. It was the first federally certified airfield capable of serving all types of aircraft, including seaplanes, and is still referred to as Lindbergh Field. Eighty years later, the airport is looking for ways to cope with its growth. San Diego has only one runway, and no realistic prospect of building another. “Our estimate is that somewhere between 2018 and 2022 we’re going to run out of capacity,” says Thella Bowens, CEO of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, which took over ownership and operations of the airport in 2003 from the San Diego Unified Port District. San Diego is already the busiest single-runway commercial service airport in the United States, handling close to 600 daily arrivals and departures with an average of 48,000 passengers a day. The Airport and its affiliated enterprises contribute almost $10 billion annually to the regional economy. It earns its international appellation by serving Mexico and Canada, although the majority of its flights are to and from other US cities. The Airport Authority wanted to build a second airport at the former Miramar Naval Air Station, but San Diego county voters rejected the plan. So what are the chances of building another runway? “It’s not impossible, but it’s improbable,” says Bowens. “The best way to get another runway in here would be to develop what’s called a closed-V runway, but to do that we’d have to remove a major military facility, some major government

completed in January 1998 with the opening of a 300,000 square-foot expansion of Terminal 2. The Airport Master Plan was then launched, and investment continues. “In an average year we spend about $40 million to $50 million in ongoing capital improvements,” says Bowens. “We continue to work on the Master Plan that we estimate will be just under a billion dollars.” Investment has not been confi ned to physical infrastructure. “We continue to develop our information technology Master Plan,” says Bowens, “with emerging technologies that will allow us to get more effi cient use of our gates. We updated our visual information systems for passengers, to make them more user-friendly and provide more information, and we recently completed an enterprise resource system. As well as improving our effi ciency, that has allowed us to update our fi nancial record keeping and integrate our fi nancial systems with other systems.” Improved services for passengers are important in an airport like San Diego, says Bowens, because many of its destinations are relatively close. “The large majority of our fl ights are within 500-700 miles. If we don’t have an effi cient operation here, people would just as soon drive.” That’s been particularly true since 9/11, she says, because of extra security precautions. “We work very closely with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to make sure they have all the resources they need to keep the lines moving effi ciently, so people don’t feel that the line is too long to wait in and decide to drive to Interview September 07 Businessexcellence 5 infrastructure with a main Post Offi ce, various other businesses, and impact a heavily populated commercial district as well as residential developments. Even if we did that we’d only get an additional 15 to 18 percent capacity, which wouldn’t give us long before we hit the capacity wall again.” Another constraint on capacity is the airport’s curfew, which prevents aircraft departures between 11.30pm and 6.30am, although arrivals are permitted throughout the night. It’s the legacy of a community lawsuit from the mid-1970s, and is unlikely to be considered for renegotiation now. What kind of growth strategy can cope with those constraints? “We are looking at our Master Plan to see if we can make the operation more effi cient to get a nominal increase in capacity,” says Bowens. “Then we will work with the other airport operators in the region to see if there are ways to use any of their infrastructure.” One of these is Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, only about 20 miles from San Diego, which has a small runway used for commercial turbo-prop operations. “There are limitations to how much that runway can be developed in the future,” she says, “but we’re going to be working with all the planning agencies and the airport operators to see if there is any way to use other airports.” Despite these limitations, Bowens is still pursuing new carriers and new routes for existing carriers. “Absolutely,” she says. “We’re not at capacity yet. We’re looking at how we can make more use of time slots that are not heavily used right now. Our largest bank of incoming and outgoing fl ights is in the early morning. Then in the late afternoon there’s a pretty heavy bank, but there’s a midday bank where there is still some availability, so we’re trying to approach carriers and see what kind of service we can get during those periods.” Several new routes have been added over the last few years, and about fi ve new airlines. One recent newcomer is ExpressJet, a regional carrier for Continental Airlines that has expanded to offer its own point-to-point services. “They are doing nine cities out of San Diego,” says Bowens. “It’s a good market for us because they’re doing cities like Fresno, Boise and Spokane, which have a potential for people from San Diego to travel there, but we don’t need 737s or 757s for those routes. A regional jet is a good product for that kind of market.” AirTran Airways also started a service in May this year to and from Atlanta, and added Orlando in June. “Florida is a market that we have a lot of demand for,” says Bowens, “and until the AirTran service started there was no non-stop service going to Florida.” That’s a good market, too, she says, not only because of the obvious leisure destinations in Florida, but also because some of the biotech and research activities that were incubated in San Diego have begun to expand into Florida. “Most of the airlines want to know what kind of business travel they can expect if they come in here,” says Bowens. “That’s their bread and butter.” The approaching capacity barrier has not spoiled San Diego’s appetite for investment, either. A $232 million airport improvement program was “Most of the airlines want to know what kind of business travel they can expect if they come in here. That’s their bread and butter”