San Diego Airport Moves Forward with $3 Billion Redevelopment Plan

Terminal 1 of San Diego International Airport is planned to be replaced with a larger, more efficient facility under a $3 billion redevelopment plan by 2024. The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors certified the Final Environmental Impact Report for the plan on Thursday, Jan. 9.

According to airport officials, being more than five decades old, Terminal 1 has become outdated in design and energy efficiency. Jonathan Heller, Airport Authority director of communications, spoke to the UCSD Guardian to share insight for what sparked the need for change.

“San Diego International Airport is the busiest single-runway commercial airport in the U.S.,” Heller said. “It has seen record growth in passenger volumes over the past six years, and the impacts of this growth are most evident in Terminal 1. When it opened in 1967, it served 2.5 million passengers that year. In 2019, the same facility served more than 12 million.”

In response to this, the Airport Development Plan revised a scheme to provide upgraded customer experience. These changes include:

  • The expansion of the size of Terminal 1 to 1.2 million square feet 
  • The addition of 19 new gates
  • More gate seating, restaurants,shops, and additional security checkpoints with more lanes
  • A new interior, post-security passageway that would connect the new terminal to the existing Terminal 2 East, which would eliminate the need to pass through security a second time when moving between terminals

If all goes as planned, construction is slated to begin in 2021, with the first phase of the new terminal opening for public use in 2024.

Kimberly Becker, the president and CEO of the Airport Authority, discussed in a post on the airport’s website about the changes the airport will be expecting in the coming year.

“In 2020, we will work toward several more milestones,” Becker said. “We will advance the RFP and RFQ bid packages, we will prepare applications for the necessary Coastal Development permits with the California Coastal Commission, and we must clear one more regulatory hurdle with the federal environmental review process.”

The Airport Authority is already on its way to addressing some of these environmental concerns. They are currently building solar panels on terminal roofs and carports in parking lots to generate renewable electric power for the airport and making a stormwater capture system at the Terminal 2 Parking Plaza to reduce runoff to San Diego Bay. Additionally, it is one of two airports in North America to reach Airport Carbon Accreditation Level 3+, or “carbon neutrality”.

The redesign of Terminal 1 will also include numerous roadways and transportation improvements to make it easier for everyone to access the airport. One of the aforementioned future programs is to develop an all-electric shuttle service that would carry transit passengers between Old Town Transit Center and the airport.

“The Airport Authority has been working with SANDAG, the Port District, the City of San Diego, MTS, NCTD, Caltrans, the County of San Diego and other regional agencies to assist in their efforts to analyze circulation around the airport, as well as to determine the best transit solution for carrying people to the airport,” Heller said. “A proposed on-airport entry road would remove an estimated 45,000 cars per day from Harbor Drive.”

In addition to providing expanded electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the ADP’s strategic alignment with the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan will also create a bicycle path on Harbor Drive, as well as new incentives to promote alternative commuting habits among employees. The plan also includes further efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Finally, as a benefit to San Diego citizens, the airport has also created a big economic impact on the community.

In 2018, the Airport Authority conducted an Economic Impact Study for the airport which indicated a dramatic increase in regional employment, payroll, and economic impact as a result of the airport. The study quantifies the airport’s total economic contributions to the region at an additional $12 billion annually.

With panned-out plans and efforts to overcome environmental regulations, San Diego International Airport is well on its way to opening the first phase of the new terminal by 2024. Their next step is to be reviewed by the California Coastal Commission, and get approval from the federal environmental review process. Any inquiries regarding the expansion or the airport are encouraged to be asked on their website, at

Photo by Adriana Heldiz for the Voice of San Diego