San Diego Int’l Builds New Airline Support Building

San Diego Int’l Builds New Airline Support Building
Jodi Richards
Published in: 

In July, San Diego International Airport (SAN) commemorated the opening of its brand new Airline Support Building. The $49 million project is part of a larger program to enhance overall behind-the-scenes facilities. The purpose-built facility was designed to provide a more efficient approach to cargo operations and consolidate support functions into a single centralized location.

“This building culminates the work of all teams at the airport authority and delivers on our promise to provide extraordinary customer service,” says Kimberly Becker, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. “The new [facility] provides our airline tenants with an efficient and sustainable building to carry out their cargo operations.”

As the busiest single-runway airport in the United States, SAN is laser-focused on efficiency. In 2019, the busy airfield served 25.2 million passengers, breaking its previous records. Key facilities for cargo and passenger carriers include the new Airline Support Building, the Facilities Management Department, the Airport Fueling Operations building and an underground stormwater cistern. As the newest addition, the Airline Support Building houses ground service equipment maintenance, aircraft provisioning items, airfield and terminal maintenance functions and the belly cargo carried by passenger aircraft.


Project: Airline Support Building

Location: San Diego Int’l Airport

Airport Owner/Operator: San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

Size: 93,600 sq. ft.

Key Functions: House provisions for passenger air service, airfield and terminal maintenance operations & belly cargo carried by passenger aircraft

Cost: $49 million

Funding: General airport revenue bonds; airport cash

Planning & Design: Began in June 2017

Construction: Jan. 2020-Dec. 2020

Design/Build Partner: Sundt Construction

Architect: HOK

Civil Engineer Firm & LEED Consultant: C&S Companies

Geotechnical Consultant: Group Delta

Traffic Engineering Controls: STC Traffic

Fueling/Maintenance: Blymyer Engineers

Landscaper: Rick Engineering

Structural Engineer: KPFF

Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing Engineer: Randall Lamb

Code & Fire/Life Safety: Jensen Hughes

Tenant Relocation: Consolidated Building Systems

Nicole Hall, senior communications specialist at SAN, explains that the buildings that previously housed these support services and maintenance functions were constructed more than 50 years ago, and had consequently become outdated and inefficient. Under the recently completed construction program, all such functions were relocated into more modern, energy-efficient facilities that are easily accessible from the airfield and public roadways.

The Airline Support Building is a 93,600-square-foot structure that combines offices, space for managing belly cargo, ground support equipment areas and maintenance facilities. Lease payments from carriers that use the new facilities create an important revenue stream for SAN. Tenants include Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa and United Airlines/PetSafe.

The new support building was created under a design-build contract with Sundt Construction. Planning and design began in June 2017, and construction occurred January 2020 to December 2020. Throughout the year, SAN consolidated operations from two outdated facilities and relocated them into a new facility on the southeast side of the airfield, along the main roadway near the airport entrance. Finding an optimal location on SAN’s limited 661-acre footprint was not easy; but Hall notes that the tract selected supports the airport authority’s efforts to modernize the airfield and contributes to its sustainability goals. 

Designers strategically located office spaces on the second floor, tucked above the loading docks. This not only improved the building aesthetics from the public side, but also maintained higher ceilings in the cargo and maintenance warehouse areas. The facility was constructed using a pre-engineered steel structure covered by an exterior skin made of corrugated panels on the rear and sides of the building and insulated metal panels on the front façade. The project team selected this mix for cost efficiency and to provide large structural spans for future flexibility.

Preparatory site work included re-grading the construction area to elevate the building for added resiliency during expected rises in sea level and coastal flooding through the year 2100. In addition, project designers included stormwater infiltration areas and added a 3 million-gallon underground cistern that will capture stormwater runoff to prevent it from entering San Diego Bay. These measures also help reduce SAN’s consumption of potable water.

Sustainable Services

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has a sustainability policy that focuses on three pillars of sustainability—economic, environmental and social. As such, green construction criteria are significant factors for tenant development and redevelopment projects. Under the airport authority’s Design and Construction Guidelines, all new buildings or major renovation projects greater than 10,000 square feet are expected to obtain LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Going above and beyond, four of the airline support buildings are designed to be LEEDv4 NC Gold Certified; the Facilities Management Department office was already certified as LEED Platinum; and the Facilities Management Department shop was certified as LEED Gold.

The project also conformed to the airport authority’s Sustainability Management Program. It requires plans in the following seven areas: water stewardship, carbon neutrality, clean transportation, zero waste, strategic energy, climate resilience and biodiversity. Because none of the four buildings in the new support facility is connected to natural gas service, they are potentially eligible for LEED Zero Energy certification after 12 to 18 months of operation. Hall reports that the airport authority is currently exploring this credential.

A lack of natural gas usage aligns with the airport authority’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions, as described in its Carbon Neutrality Plan. Instead of using natural gas, the four buildings are connected to and receive power from a closed-loop electricity distribution grid. Each building receives a portion of the on-site photovoltaic solar electricity generated elsewhere at the airport, coupled with 100% carbon-free electricity provided by the regional utility.

Inside, the modern buildings leverage natural lighting to reduce energy usage and create a healthy work environment. In fact, about 70% of the regularly occupied areas receive natural daylight and feature outdoor views. Designers added skylights over the cargo warehouse space to reduce its lighting requirements during the day. There was also a concerted effort to minimize heating/cooling requirements wherever possible. Designers capitalized on the region’s temperate climate by using automated louvers to bring in outside air and maximize airflow. Other sustainability features of the Airline Support Building include:

  • bicycle racks to encourage employees and visitors to use alternative commuting methods;
  • reflective roofing to help reduce the heat island effect;
  • restroom fixtures with efficient flush and flow rates that reduce indoor potable water use by 45%;
  • drought-tolerant landscaping to reduce outdoor portable water use by 75%;
  • use of products with low-VOC emissions to ensure good indoor air quality; and
  •  façades with reduced vertical glazing and increased solid areas to help keep birds safe.

One specific species of bird—the California Least Tern—figured prominently into plans for the new facilities. Because the building site was almost completely within the nesting area of the endangered bird, construction was “significantly restricted” between April 1 and September 15. Hall notes that the project team worked closely with SAN officials and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop a construction plan that protected the Least Tern throughout its nesting season. That included working overtime to complete the structure and apply the exterior building skin before the nesting season began. The team then worked inside the building and behind a sound wall erected onsite to continue construction activities. Hall reports that these measures provided an uninterrupted nesting period for the birds.

As with any construction project, there were many lessons learned. “With the Airline Support Building, key takeaways are to begin early with the environmental entitlements process to ensure timely local, state and federal approvals,” Hall reflects. “And for our airport site, we had to ensure those approvals aligned with the limited construction period during the non-Least Tern nesting season.”


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