Sustainable Airport Development and Expansion : A Case Study of San Francisco International Airport


Following rapid development and improved household consumption level in the recent years, demand for aviation services has enormously increased. Consequently, majority of cities are planning to invest in new airports as well as expansion of existing ones in a bid to provide convenience to travelers besides enhancing economic development. Nonetheless, airport expansions have brought about sustainability concerns such as environmental disruptions particularly due to aviation noise and gas emission. Such issues have become more outstanding with the speedy development of cities in the United States and in the globe rendering the airport sustainable development problem a critical concern. Recently, research studies have been conducted on airport sustainable development problem mostly focusing on the airport sustainable development capacity (Ciu & Kuang, 2013). The issue of sustainable development capacity of airports can be assessed from aspects of operational capability, social benefit, environmental effects, and resource utilization. Environmental impacts such as noise and air pollution have been associated with expansion of airports.

Air travel is the fastest growing transportation mode that is becoming increasingly popular in today’s world. Glottalization and economic growth has led to rapid growth in the demand for air travel with demographic and economic evidence pointing to this trend accelerating. It is important to note that each mode of transport is fundamentally subject to a different infrastructure, unique regulations, and operations. In addition, the planning and construction process of new airports as well as the expansion of existing ones precipitates controversies to the community and the environment (Freeman et al., 2012). The growing pervasiveness of aviation services is evident through the upgrading of airport infrastructure and the ever growing number of airports. Air travels and aviation systems bring about considerable social and economic benefits to communities around the globe.

However, for aviation systems and airports to continue encouraging local and global economic growth, there is need to address the social and environmental planning and construction challenges in an innovative and sustainable manner.
In recent times, political administrations and public opinion have adjusted to the safety of locations surrounding airports and the adverse impacts and concerns emanating from airport development and expansions. While they generate revenue in local and national economies and creation jobs opportunities, airports also produce noise, pollution, transport problems and taking up of huge tracts of land. Research have indicated that noise from aircrafts, especially at night, can lead to damaging health effects to those who are perpetually exposed to it. Subsequently, proposals for development of new airports or expansion works almost always precipitate considerable public controversy calling for proper balancing of environmental and economic concerns. Besides disturbances caused by the noise from aircraft, other major concerns to airports include congestion, local air quality, fear of air risk, and accidents on local roads.

Airport Infrastructure Expansion

As air transportation demand continues to grow, it becomes progressively challenging to accommodate the consequent traffic levels devoid of significant expansion of airport infrastructure. Nevertheless, majority of large airports have already strained their ability to effect expansion, with the surrounding communities strongly opposed to the construction of additional runways and facilities. Regarding demand management, a number of regions have been successful in having general aviation that are less expensive to expand and improve and have minimal environmental impacts. The volatility of aviation demand development has been enhanced further by financial and economic crises, flue epidemics, and oil prices. The approach of demand development might also be instrumental in addressing the issue of congestion in major commercial service airports.
Airports serve as economic engines through the creation of direct and indirect employment, while acting as innovation centers for new and advanced technologies in a given region. Furthermore, airports of today act as inter-modal transport links and integrate shopping facilities, hotels, conference rooms, office spaces and leisure facilities.

Subsequently, they are considered as clusters in the light of general spatial perspective. It is agreeable hence that airport expansion has significant impact to the economic growth of a region. Fundamentally, air connectivity enhances the number of destinations provided with services as well as the frequency of flights along the course of these routes (Freeman et al., 2012). Accordingly, the region becomes more attractive, inviting foreign investment and increasing the business competence potential, and finally produces an impeccable cycle of economic growth and connectivity. Connectivity comes about from the ability of an airport to attract travelers as well as the availability and efficiency of routes provided to international destinations through the growing complexity of air networks, and the significance of hub airports for the regional economic development. Despite the real-estate compaction as well as the threat posed to the general aviation improvement regarding potential closures, there is an obvious need for ensuring more capacity at the busiest and largest airports (Ciu & Kuang, 2013). Following picking up of sales, there is an addition of in excess of a thousand aircraft being asses to the overall fleet annually, with operators flying more often than before, there is an increasing pressure on the infrastructure of airports calling for runway expansions.

Federal Legislation and Airport Expansion

The conflicts that arise concerning airport expansion are subject to land use and scale. Among the parties that are responsible for the conflicts are municipalities that have not enacted regulations of land use to capture airports presence, and airlines that focus their global air traffic network in a particular place. These parties have been reported to deliberately manipulating scale in a bid to get their way, through demanding regulation and legislation at higher standards, or through appealing to individuals to alter their patterns of travel. Airport conflicts have the potential to extend for decades following the lack of mechanism for adjudicating between scales (Cidell, 2004). In the event of multi-scaler conflicts, for instance, the large scales are seen to override smaller ones. In addition, there is also the concern of how scale are constructed at the onset, or how expansion of airports become nation-wide or state-wide issue when the opposition is concentrated at the local level.
On the hand, although globalization has put certain pressures on the transportation systems, the constrains on air transport infrastructure expansion currently has the potential of reshaping globalization. The processes of globalization have put increased demand for reliable, regular air service to a wide spectrum of destinations. These demands brings about enormous strain on the existing airports to increase their infrastructure capacity through expansion or moving to new sites. The issue of environmental concerns has restrained both forms of growth in regions all over the country (Cidell, 2004). Subsequently, future expansion is expected to be more challenging, compelling organizations that are dependent on commercial transportation in doing business to consider alternative locations, modes of transport, or new ways of conducting business, which may alter the globalization process.
Federal legislation as pertains to aviation encapsulates a wide range of areas among them certifying airworthiness, funding of airports, determination and deregulation of fares, and handling of negative externalities of airports. Funding mechanisms for air transportation and noise mitigation as well as compatibility and sustainable planning are the most pertinent issues to local land use and regulation to different scales (Cidell, 2004). These issues have been changing over time, highlighting comparative shifts as far as equilibrium of power between federal government and local airport authorities. In 1926, Congress enacted the Air Commerce Act as the first piece of legislation regulating air travel. The Secretary of Commerce was mandated to be responsible for aviation since the Act was aimed at promoting and regulating the use of aircraft in commerce. At this time federal funding for terminals and airports was prohibited. It was until 1946 that federal funds were availed for airport projects, although for only up to 50 percent of the total cost of project, and only in the event that the project did fit the newly formulated National Airport Plan.
Rapid air traffic growth was catalyzed by the introduction of jet aircraft in 1960s as well as the deregulation of 1970s.

It was possible to fly for longer distances with more passengers on board with jet aircraft. The regulation of routes and airfares was removed from the government’s control by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Federal funding became a way to quicken capacity increase rate with the growing demand for nation’s airports. Subsequently, the Airport and Airway Trust Fund was set up in 1970 for purposes of disbursing funds for such projects with the money coming from aviation fuel, aircraft, and air transportation taxes (Ciu & Kuang, 2013). Today, while airport operators and municipalities have the control over the airports operations, the extend of expansion projects implies that they are dependent on funding from the federal government, and are subject to limitations as per their ability to control operations.

Sustainable Airport Development and Expansion at San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is the major commercial service airport in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is also the main West Coast hub for United Airlines. Being an extensive long haul as well as international air services airport, SFO has also recently attracted low-cost airlines. The airport is connected to many municipalities in the San Francisco Bay Area via the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) heavy rail system (Freeman et al., 2012). Initially, the system operated within three Bay Area counties; San Francisco, Contra Costa, and Alameda. In 1996, the BART extension to San Mateo County was opened. SFO management maintains that environmental stewardship is one of the primary pillars of the airport’s objective to provide excellence in service (Esmaili, 2013).

The sustainable aspects of SFO values include reduction of green house gas emission, water efficiency, energy conservation, air quality, renewable energy, waste reduction, green building programs, employee welfare, and natural resources preservation. Tenants at the airport are obliged to support the Airport in its environmental sustainability objectives. The Airport, subject to San Francisco Municipal Environment Code, requires LEED Gold Certification for all its projects. Subsequently, all tenants of SFO are required to comply with the guidelines of SFO’s sustainability (San Francisco International Airport, 2015). SFO’s Sustainability Guidelines were developed in a bid to incorporate sustainable airport planning into all projects and functions of the airport (Esmaili, 2013). The Municipality of San Francisco formulated the Guidelines with an aim of promoting the best possible, social, environmental, and financially responsible practices as well as to promote the quality of life in the city. The guidelines will keep changing over time subject to continuous growth and development of sustainability, while integrating new technologies, lessons learned, design and sustainable initiatives, and best practices (Sustainable Airport Manual, 2010).
Formulation of SFO’s Sustainability Guidelines has led to construction efficiency, particularly in cost saving, the use of best practices, and reduction in the use of natural resources.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and other parties such as airport executives, industry leaders, and environmental experts have contributed to the creation of the Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM). Following the creation of SAM, there has been the development of a rating system and a green airplane certification award system. SAM employs the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system as a foundation, together with lessons learned and new technologies availability (Freeman et al., 2012). LEED involves a green building certification system that offers verification that a building is designed through sustainable processes including emissions reductions and water efficiency (U.S. Green Building Council, 2010) The SAM is formulated in a way that it can be applied to any airport environment. The practices and procedures prescribed in the manual are instrumental in reducing the environmental impact of the airport while at the same time enhancing operational, financial and social benefits. The use of sustainable airport planning practices is vital in ensuring the reduction of operational costs and increase in productivity (Ruble, 2011).

The Planning section of the SAM is formulated to guide the planning of the physical environment of the airport as pertains to design and construction and its effects on the natural environment. It prescribes the procedures for compliance of the airport to local, state and federal standards, while considering planning as a process that sets objectives for projects. Planning occurs at the initial stages of development, thus making it a vital part of sustainability. The planning process is aimed at defining the sustainability objectives and ought to be used in the airport’s master plan.

In the Design and Construction section, the SAM outlines the sustainable practices at an airport. Information on sustainable sites is included with an aim of reducing pollution from the construction. Also discussed are the alternative transportation as well as public transportation access for purposes of mitigating pollution and impacts of land development fro use of automobile. Another part of the design and construction chapter is the storm-water design and quality control. In addition, the best construction practices and in-built environment quality are discussed under this chapter. Adhering to these practices will ensure the airport is lowering the impact on the environment while at the same time cutting the costs.
The operations and maintenance of an airport involves a wide spectrum of activities which include routine matters, snow removal, records keeping, and emergency preparedness. There is need for airports to put into account the negative impacts of its operations on the environment. The airport’s operations should be in compliance with the set regulations that safeguard the environment. The SAM is intentioned to guarantee sustainability at the airport through the reduction of the impact of its daily activities, such as water and energy use, environmentally friendly products, and sustainable purchasing policies, and waste stream management. (Sustainable Airport Manual, 2010).

The SFO has began to develop a sustainability plan aimed at providing guidelines for ensuring their operations are economically viable, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable. The SFO’s 2011-2016 Strategic Plan sustainability goals encourage positive occupancy and superior passenger experience by seeking to achieve the LEED Gold Certification for all new major construction. Another objective of the Strategic Plan is to attain climate neutrality for commission controlled operations through reduction of GHG emissions to 40 percent below 1990 level by the year 2025. In addition, SFO seeks to achieve 80% solid waste recycling and zero waste by year 2020 (Esmaili, 2013).

Airports Planning and Current Trends at San Francisco International Airport

Airport networks and infrastructure are vital assets in a country and involve a huge investment of public funds. Airport planning involves a systematic process employed in a bid to determine the guidelines for the efficient development and expansion of airports that are conformable with local, state, and national objectives. A primary goal of airport planning is assuring the effective utilization if airport resources for purposes of satisfying the aviation demand in a financially and sustainable feasible manner. The three fundamental interdependent aspects of airport planning are airport, airlines, and territory. Airlines dictate the achievement of the airport and consequently offer economic growth to the territory. On the other hand, territorial elements have an effect on the performance of the airport and attract given types of airlines (San Francisco International Airport, 2015). The surrounding areas of an airport are invariably exposed to tension.It is therefore imperative to comprehensively evaluate the interrelation of airports and its territory putting into account the airport development, route patterns of the airline, and the territorial impacts.

It is crucial to note that airport planning projections are always incorrect due to the fact that managers and planners face the actuality of competition era and deregulation thus making the forecasts slightly undependable. There is need therefore for responsible airport planning that foresees a wide spectrum of possible future scenarios that allow airport operators and managers the authority to dynamically alter their plans as well as designs in a bid to accommodate the variety of possible outcomes that may occur over time. There is need to ensure that future methodologies for air traffic forecasting are subject to the role and viability of particular airlines at specific airports.
SFO proceeds to focus on airport sustainability through its SFO’s Sustainability Guidelines and the Sustainable Airport Manual. The core of SFO’s projects is to achieve sustainable practices in every phase of the design and construction process. The current trends at SFO on sustainable airport planning are precipitating a better utilization of assets at the airport besides reduction of environmental footprint (Esmaili, 2013). Employing more sustainable and advanced technology will aid SFO in reducing costs. SFO seeks to reduce environmental impact by making use of environmental, financial, and social best and responsible practices as prescribed in the Sustainable Airport Manual (Freeman et al., 2012). This also involves communicating with tenants and occupants in a bid to ensure better infrastructure in the future.

Balancing Environmental Impacts and Economic Development

Regions that play host to airline hubs report both benefits and drawbacks. The benefits are mainly economic due to jobs at the airport that attract national as well as international headquarters and branch offices to the region. It is evident that airline service is a prerequisite for regional and national economic growth. Nonetheless, the areas surrounding the airport are likely to experience environmental impacts including noise and air pollution. The disparity between the type of advantages and the type of disadvantages, and the inequality in scale between neighborhood and region, imply that the environmental impacts are invariably fundamentally externalized by airport neighbors, who may or may not make gains from the airport. The working assumption that transportation infrastructure enhances development, as oppose to the contrary, has inspired major investments by local, state and national governments with an aim to drive economic growth. While historically the transportation infrastructure such as railroads and canals has evidently enhanced development in the US as well as elsewhere, the connection for other modes of transportation is less clear. Studies have indicated that in developed countries, for instance, additional transportation infrastructure is unlikely to spark further economic development (Esmaili, 2013). Subsequently, the only way further development of infrastructure will bring about economic growth is in the event that a particular economic activity is being held back by lack of transportation.

The environmental impacts of air transportation are invariably taken to be side effects or externalities that may be remedied by some form of mitigation. Increasingly, nonetheless, externalities of environmental impacts are flowing back into the system, making the expansion of airport infrastructure challenging. Research has indicated that the airport capacity for airports in Europe and United States will in the near future be reduced to environmental capacity, progressively determining the level of movements of air transport. In the US, for example, cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston have structurally limited their current infrastructure following years-long opposition of citizens to expansion (Ciu & Kuang, 2013). It follows therefore that the magnitude of aircraft movement and airports expansion will evidently be determined by where the opposition of the local citizens as regards environmental impacts is minimal.
The two major forms of environmental impact from airports are air pollution and noise pollution. Noise pollution has been well investigated as pertains to its effects on health as well as property values, while air pollution is just beginning to be thoroughly studied. Efforts to minimize noise effects revolves around reducing it at the source by way of ensuring quieter engines as well as changes in operations.

Noise effects can also be reduced by way of land use controls and soundproofing the existing structures. Mitigation of air pollution is effected through the use of further technological transformation, with the only remedy that is possible withing the current technology being the reduction of the flights numbers, thus bringing about the question of the extent of airport infrastructure expansion that is possible withing particular regions.

The challenges of environmental damage, social dislocation, as well as economic non-sustainability brought about by extensive and rapid airport development might imply that the foundation for greater sustainability is in the setting limits to urbanization as well as altering the government regulation in the planning for aviation. It is important to note that airline services is a vital sector to the development of economy of any country. However, airport development and expansion is directly linked to the environment. The quality and sustainability of the environment, either man-made or natural, is crucial to the airport development. We should note nonetheless that the interrelationship of the environment and aviation industry is complex (Ciu & Kuang, 2013).
Airports development involves a wide spectrum of activities that pose adverse environmental effects. Majority of these impacts are related to the construction and development of general infrastructure such as runways. The negative impacts of airport development and expansion can gradually destruct environmental resources on which it is subject to. Contrary, airports development has the potential to enhance beneficial effects on the environment through contribution to environmental conservation and protection (Esmaili, 2013).Airport development activities can act as a way to raise awareness of the environmental virtues as well as being instrumental in financing the protection of natural sites and enhancing their economic significance.

Airline services, particularly in the United States, is one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy of globe and it is imbued with substantial environmental, social, cultural, and economic effects, both negative and positive. It is pertinent to note that airline services can be instrumental in economic development, however, in the event that it is not planned properly, it can have adverse effects on the pristine environments and biodiversity. Subsequently, this can lead to the misuse of natural resources. There is need to plan, manage and undertake airport development in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially beneficial in a bid to reduce the adverse impacts (Ciu & Kuang, 2013).

There is need to check and regulate all stakeholders and players as well as involve them in airport development decision making processes through informing them on all apposite development concerns instrumental in effecting sustainable airport development. There is need, therefore, to reduce the negative impacts on the environment besides having a good concept of target market in a bid to achieve design innovation, authenticity, cost-benefit balance, and development of social and economic welfare for local people. Importantly, there is need to introduce community value, enhance local capacity, respect and preserve natural and cultural values for purposes of delivering mutual benefits to air travelers and locals (Ruble, 2011). Additionally, reducing water and energy consumption should be accentuated as a fundamental principal in sustainable airport development.

Environmental Sustainability in Airport Expansion

Environmental sustainability is undoubtedly one of the most vital elements of airport expansion, primarily the natural, physical environment and its safeguarding. Environmental sustainability is considered to be the ensuring of resources are well-maintained and preserved for utilization by the future generations (Forsyth, 1997). Airport developers have an obligation to consider the environment carefully in a bid to safeguard it particularly the natural environment and its protection. To illustrate, wildlife is a main tourist attraction all over the globe but tourism and airport expansion is evidently harmful to the wildlife due to destruction of habitats, disturbance of breeding habits, affecting feeding habits, and fires in the woodland. Airport expansion certainly make use of a wide spectrum of natural resources. Such resources include clean water, lakes, rivers, beaches, mountain areas, and natural woodland (Esmaili, 2013). Natural environment is invariably affected by airport expansion following the fact that there are very few natural landscapes left for the development of airport facilities. It should be understood, that airport expansion is harmful to the natural environment due to the fact that it alters the natural environment.

There is need, therefore, for the local and federal governments together with airport authorities to consider various actions aimed at protecting the natural environment as well as the wildlife due to their value as tourism resources. Motivation is instrumental particularly in developing nations since if the airport developers fail to motivate the government agencies, there is likelihood of more harm to natural environment (Ahmed, 2016). The local communities have a responsibility to create awareness of environmental concerns and they ought to push for environmental protection.

Airport Expansion and Economic Sustainability

Economic sustainability can be regarded as the capability of an economy to indefinitely sustain a given level of economic production. Airline services is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in globe. When airport developers consider sustainability, they do not put into account the economic sustainability as a fundamental aspect while it is a key feature of ensuring that the resort business is more sustainable (Ciu & Kuang, 2013). Economic sustainability is key for the regional development in majority of developing nations and it is vital in ensuring poverty reduction, economic progress, as well as motivation of new economic frontiers.
Airport development and expansion has a positive influence on the gross income and production of a country, employment, although it may pose negative impacts on the environment (Ruble, 2011). It is vital to note, that uncontrolled and unplanned airport expansion cannot sustain maximum profits in the long term. Securing the environment ensures further economic sustainability of the airline industry (Esmaili, 2013). Economic sustainability calls for building linkages as well as reducing leakages and wastes.

Airport Expansion and Social Sustainability

Social sustainability involves the quality of life as well as the capability of a social system to enhance processes and arrangements which accomplish the prerequisites and needs of its members besides supporting the capability of future generations in a bid to safeguard a healthy society at a standard social well-being level. There are various social and cultural impacts on airports neighborhood due to the influence of visiting passengers. The behavior of foreign passengers using the airports and surrounding facilities may have detrimental effects on the quality of life of the host community (Ruble, 2011). Some of the negative impacts include prostitution, increased levels of crime, drugs and alcohol problems, congestion and crowding. Airport expansion may also invade the rights and privacy of the locals when they are displaced in a bid to create new runways and other amenities (Ciu & Kuang, 2013). There is need to encourage positive cultural exchange and preserving local culture and traditions for purposes of encouraging social sustainability.

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