Short-term development of March Air Force Base as an intermodal all-cargo airport is favored by aviation market forces in the region as opposed to passenger services, according to a study issued Wednesday, Nov. 20 by the Southern California Association of Governments.
The draft report, titled "March Air Force Base Joint Use Feasibility Study," was prepared for the March Joint Powers Authority.
"There are a number of factors that argue in favor of March AFB being developed as an intermodal all-cargo airport," the report said. "These include the fact that it has the largest runway in California and can easily accommodate any size cargo plane currently flying; it has excellent freeway access and potentially good rail access with intermodal capabilities; it is free from urban encroachment and airspace congestion and has room to expand; and it can serve the cargo needs of San Diego, where Lindbergh Field is very limited in its cargo lift and handling capabilities..."
Passenger use of March in the short term was placed in a secondary position:
"The short-term prospects for March as a commercial passenger airport are problematic, since within 30 miles of its location is a well-established airport--Ontario--that is currently building a major new terminal that major airlines have committed to finance, as well as another airport--San Bernardino International--that is refurbishing its terminal and is several years ahead of March in the re-use process."
An alternative was given in one of the conclusions:
"The best strategy for March to establish passenger service in the short term is arguably to attract one or more discount carriers by offering them attractive financial packages, such as low landing fees and lease rates in the beginning years."
In the long term, the relative competitive position of March as a passenger airport "should be much improved," said another conclusion. "This is because most of the air carrier airports in the region, as well as in San Diego, are rapidly approaching their physical and environmental capacity constraints...with relatively good access to San Diego, March has long-term opportunities to serve future unmet San Diego passenger demand, especially after Lindbergh Field reaches its...capacity."
In the six-county SCAG region--Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial--updated forecasts project a quadrupling of total air cargo volumes over the next 20 years, to 8.89 million tons by 2016, compared with 2.15 million tons handled in 1994, according to the report. The air cargo handling capacity of the six-county region's five urban air carrier airports was estimated to total 2.96 million tons.
"Without major new handling capacity added to the regional system such as through the conversion of closed or downsized military air bases to cargo handling, the region is expected to run out of handling capacity by the turn of the century," the report said.
The air cargo allocation methodology used in the study assigned a total of 426,000 tons of cargo to March Air Force Base by the year 2016 if combined with maximum passenger use. In the all-cargo alternative, March would handle a projected 1,245,000 tons of cargo, representing 14% of the total regional and 20% of international volume forecast to 2016.
The report said "emerging trends favor the development of all-cargo airports, including the fact that increasing amounts of cargo are being transported by all-cargo freighters, and it is now strategically possible to substantially separate cargo operations from passenger operations." Cited as existing all-cargo airports in the United States that are being developed "as high-tech manufacturing/distribution centers with intermodal capabilities" were Rickenbacker International a former Strategic Air Command base in Columbus, Ohio; Alliance International, 15 miles north of Fort Worth, Texas; and Global Transpark in Kinston, N.C.
March AFB has the longest runway in California--13,300 feet long and 300 feet wide. Virtually any aircraft using it can take off at maximum gross take-off weight.