Category Archives: The 3rd Dimension – Flights of Fancy
Although transportation will probably continue to be at the surface level in the Winchester Urban Village area, the 3rd dimension cannot be ignored with developments both underground through improved boring techniques, as well as above with electric air-taxis. The views in this category are strictly those of the author and do not reflect his professional or community roles (e.g. FlySJC Airport Commissioner).
The rapid electrification we starting to see on land appears to be reaching for the sky with the dozens of companies developing air taxis. Additionally, there are multiple companies developing electric drive-trains for existing airplanes. These solutions initially might not offer the Jetsons’ future of personal air travel, but it could revolutionize the short and mid-term distant trips (e.g. 50 to 300 miles), making point-to-point travel much more cost-effective and offers the potential to revitalize small-towns in rural America.
The electric nature of this new type of flying machine will reduce both noise and particulate pollution, reducing the impact on the surrounding community compared to traditional liquid fuel-powered airplanes.
One company, which is using a fuel-cell electric approach, is Avia, as outlined in this excellent analysis in the Long Tail Pipe.
And speaking at this year’s CAFE Foundation’s 13th Annual Electric Aircraft Symposium in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Kevin Noertker, Co-Founder & CEO, Ampaire Inc, reinforces the positive changes of electrifying aircraft when he stated that,
“Electrification of aviation will:
– 70 to 90 percent fuel cost savings
– 25 to 50 percent maintenance cost savings
– noise reduced by two-thirds or even more
– help earn the good will of communities around airports
– significantly reduce direct emissions”
Could an extra 36 feet in building height in both the downtown and the Diridon Station Areas be gained without changing current One Engine Inoperative procedures Norman Y. Mineta, San Jose International Airport?
By extending runway 12R/30L over De La Cruz Boulevard into the current FAA VOR antenna field, it looks like the runway could begin 1,360 feet to the north of its current start point. At a 37.5:1 (1-foot elevation for every 37.5 feet in the horizontal direction), this would yield the 36 feet gain, across the board with current OEI.
In the documentation provided by the Airport, the only reference to extending the runway was provided in this slide in a May 2018 presentation. There was no explanation of what had been examined in this so-called Scenario.
Perhaps, the slide that should have been created is below, which depicts a runway and taxiway extending over De La Cruz Avenue to the field where the FAA’s antenna field is. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the FAA plans on decommissioning that obsolete radio facility, freeing up the land for other uses (within bounds of airspace restrictions), such as a runway extension.
Would extending the runway necessitate an extension beyond the freeway, etc.?
Hopefully not, as the extended part of the runway (on the north side of De La Cruz) would only be used for take-offs. Page 3-13 of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Santa Clara County indicates that there must be a runway protection zone.
“At this airport the RPZ [Runway Protection Zone] as adopted by the airport and the FAA, begins 200 feet out from the runway’s displaced landing thresholds (not the pavement ends). It is a trapezoidal area centered on the extended runway centerline. The size is related to the expected aircraft use and the visibility minimums for that particular runway.”
There is no reason that a longer runway would need to change the displaced landing thresholds.
Would the Investment Be Worth It?
The question is how much would it cost to extend the runway and taxiway over De La Cruz? The documentation provided by the airport doesn’t show any analysis of estimated costs to extend the runway, so we don’t know if this idea was dismissed from a cost-benefit or a technical standpoint.
Although it didn’t make the cost-benefit analysis cut in the study, a net gain of 35 feet would provide greater benefit from a downtown height perspective than any of the scenarios, including the Airport’s recommended Scenario 4. Taken by itself, there would be some gain in the Diridon Station Area as well. If combined with a Scenario 10b, it would allow building heights of 69 to 93 feet taller than today in the Diridon Station Area, which starts to approach height increases suggested by Scenario 4.
If combined with Scenarios 10b it’s reasonable to assume gains for a runway extension to be somewhere between the $438M to $747M of Scenario 10b and Scenario 4, respectively. As pointed out here, the net gains for Scenario 4 would be $26 to $203 lower due to negative economic impact to the airport, which wouldn’t occur with a combined runway extension/Scenario 10b.
But there would be a big upfront construction investment. How much would that cost? That’s a good question and something that should have been addressed by the OEI study.
In the absence of data from the 2018 OEI study, Maui’s airport can be a proxy as it faces a similar dilemma in terms of departures and is planning a runway extension:
“The runway extension, projected to cost $96 million and built by 2021, would allow planes such as the Boeing 737-800 and 777-200 to take off at maximum weight for cities such as Chicago, Dallas and Denver, the plan said. Currently, those flights have to take off with reduced fuel that requires a stop in Honolulu to refuel before heading to the Mainland.”
This 1,500-foot runway extension runs into a road and they are looking at building a tunnel for the road, but they don’t provide an estimate for that cost. Using Caltrans estimates of $500/square foot, the cost of a 150’x1,500’ underpass would be approximately $112.5M. Assuming costs similar to the Maui example of $96M for extending the runway 1,500’, the total cost would be $208M ($112M+96M).
Rounding up to 250M for engineering costs, etc. and applying a cost of financing of 6% over 30 years, would result in a payment of $1.8M per month. Assuming the Airport bore all this cost (no FAA Grants, no value capture from increased heights downtown) and assuming a continued growth to 21.8M passengers (approximate passenger projection by 2038), then the cost per passenger would be approximately $1, which, when added to existing costs, would still be less than SFO and continue to be competitive with OAK’s rates.
Although the above back-of-the-envelope financial analysis assumes that SJC shoulders all the costs, it doesn’t include the gains from being able to continue to market SJC as the international airport in the heart of Silicon Valley.
A recent article from San Jose Inside suggests that San Jose should prepare for warmer temperatures. This advice is consistent with the City of San Jose’s Climate Smart San Jose “plan to reduce air pollution, save water, and create a stronger and healthier community.”
Why then did the consultant that was hired by the Airport to perform the 2018 One Engine Inoperative study use temperatures (81.3° F) that were almost 7 degrees cooler as compared to what was assumed in the 2007 study (88°)?
This is important, as the higher the temperatures, the more weight (in the form of passengers or cargo) that has to be removed from an airplane to ensure safe operation in the event of a loss of an engine. The change in temperature was the major assumption difference between the 2007 study and the 2018 study.
By using lower temperatures, the economic impact to the airport is much lower than it would be with the assumption of higher temperatures. And the impact could mean the difference between serving transcontinental/transoceanic flights versus regional destinations, as indicated on SJC’s website:
“I was typically using 95% reliability for some of the studies back in that 2007 timeframe and invariably I got responses that, that was too conservative and too high. The reason I was using 95% reliability when most of the airlines were using 85% reliability is that if it was a day time operation, the percentages for a 24-hour period, so if the airline is operating mainly passenger flights, not cargo during daylight hours, it would tend to be a little more conservative to use 95%. But, I have really switched to using what the airlines use which is 85% surface temperatures and in-route winds for these type of route analyses.”
This raises several questions:
Who was telling him he was being conservative?
Does each airline use the 85% temperature and reliability numbers? Do some airlines use 90% or 95%?
What about the impact of climate change regarding future temperature assumptions?
At the 02/11/19 Airport Commission meeting, this author raised the question of whether the economic gains touted by the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport/City of San Jose (Airport) One Engine Inoperative (OEI) study will be as great as expected, as heard in the above video?¹
As a brief background, the Airport is recommending a 5′ to 35′ increase in downtown building heights (less than a 15% increase of today’s limits) and 70′ to 150′ in the Diridon Station Area, while the Airport Commission voted for an alternative Scenario (10B), which would allow taller buildings in the Diridon Station Area (30′-55′), while keeping the same OEI safety limits in the straight out (downtown) path.
The Airport’s model assumes all the buildings are built to maximum height and would result in a Total Economic Impact of between $747M for Scenario 4 and $438M for Scenario 10B. The economic impact does not seem to include the economic losses to the airport, which depending upon load factor, is estimated to be between $26 to $203M. These loss estimates do not include dropped routes or routes that are no longer viable for airlines.
A 100% buildout is not realistic from an economic or aesthetic viewpoint. The economic value drops by a greater amount with Scenario 4, as compared to Scenario 10B, as the economic losses to the airport begin once the first building penetrates the existing OEI limits (see Appendix A, below). In Southflow situations, airlines will have to shed passengers or cargo.
This won’t be so critical for an air carrier with many flights from SJC that has multiple options, but for those carriers flying long-haul flights that have fewer alternatives (e.g. being able to put passengers on alternative flights), their solution might be to drop the flight. In 2006, American Airlines raised this concern with their once-profitable flight to Tokyo-Narita, when they discovered that the Adobe building was in its OEI path. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KwfvIQRutK3g3Yp-8JYxWi-j6GNDsjLv/view
 Page 30 of the November 2018 presentation. Impact to the airport is directly related to Load Factor. The baseline Load Factor results in a $26M negative impact, while it increases to $203M as the Load Factor goes to 95%
[Note: This author appreciates the efforts and insight of airport staff, committee members, and airport commissioners in studying various One Engine Inoperative (OEI) scenarios. These were the comments intended to be said at the January 28, 2019, CED meeting, but not well articulated once in front of the microphone. To some extent, the following represents some of the highlights of the 4/24/19 memo approved by the Airport Commission. Please refer to that memo for more detail]
The City of San Jose Councilmembers are about to address what might be the most important land-use/airport-use decision they will ever make; a decision that will have ramifications for generations to come. To be clear, if the recommended option, Scenario 4, is selected, SJC will be relegated to an airport that primarily serves destinations in North America.
So, why the rush to change building downtown and Diridon Station Area (DSA) heights, given there are no developments requesting the added height and that the community vision process for DSA has not yet begun?
As we look at how we can achieve greater building heights and continued airport growth, we should be looking holistically at how to maximize the public value from seemingly disparate activities of Diridon Station Area placemaking, the EIR for the Airport Master Plan and the ongoing Airline Lease negotiations. The outcome of the process will have an impact that lasts for generations; well beyond the 2038 projections given in the November 2018 presentation.
But before we look at how the process should work, let’s take a closer look at Scenario 4 and a few of the concerns expressed by the Airport Commission in its January 24th, 2018 vote.
First and foremost, the information provided to the Airport Commission in preparation for the January 14th meeting represents an incohesive and, incomplete report (e.g. data was spread over multiple presentations from different points in time) and there were many data points that don’t tie together; especially as it relates to potential economic value. Simply, the information has not been well communicated.¹
The process seems rushed in the sense that there are several factors (Airport Master Plan, Airline Lease Negotiations and Diridon Station Area Community Meetings) that could affect the modeled scenarios. As an example of an assumption that could easily change, after the upcoming community meetings (aka the Google Village meetings), is the number of residences per home.
The model assumes 1.43 residents per dwelling, which is fewer than the 2.4 and 2.9 people per home that currently reside in the 95126 and 95110 ZIP codes, respectively. The implication is what has been modeled would not be a place for families and could be an indicator of displacement of existing families.
“If you superimposed the average airport over a map of the city that it serves, you’d find that it’s about the same size as the entire downtown core….The world’s leading airports view these real estate holdings as a critical source of non-aeronautical revenue. They’ve transformed that land into a variety of profitable commercial developments, including hotels, office parks, and shopping centers. Still, others have built concert arenas, university campuses, and tourist attractions.”
To incorporate this sort of thinking suggested by Professor Hirsh means we need to integrate what are now disparate planning exercises. A rough view of how a change to a process where the OEI study would be influenced by factors that have yet to be determined is depicted below.
The results of the draft report would inform the Airport Master Plan (e.g. impact on passenger growth, land-use decisions, etc.) the current lease negotiations and the upcoming Diridon Station Area community meetings.
Front loading the planning process like this would add time in the beginning because it would involve more stakeholders and provide the opportunity to test assumptions prior to committing to a long-term change. In the long-term, this would probably save time, as all the stakeholders would have an opportunity to participate in the process.
I voted for Scenario 10b because it was the best option, given the data we were provided. But, if we keep refining our assumptions, as described above, an even better scenario, that creates a greater net public good, could appear. Stay tuned to this blog for another idea that this author doesn’t believe has been fully studied, as it didn’t appear as a scenario in the materials provided by the Airport.
The proposed changes to the SJC Airport Master Plan extend the plan to the year 2037. Before we look forward, let’s look back 18 years ago. In 2001, there was no smartphone, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school, AOL was the World Wide Web for many people, and GE was the world’s most valuable company as measured by market capitalization.
Fast-forward two decades from now and we are sure to see similar changes in mobility and the built-environment based on the technological developments occurring today.
Autonomous Vehicles – The industry may currently be in the so-called “deflated expectations”, just as the broadband ecosystem was with the demise of Webvan, Pets.com, and others at the turn of the century. In the meantime, start-ups and established companies are working on solutions for the operational issues that will be required for autonomous driving to scale. Policy at the local, state and national will be critical to determining whether the future is shared autonomous or zombie cars; the so-called heaven or hell scenarios. In either scenario, there is likely going to be less demand for parking on a per passenger basis in 2037 as compared in 2019.
Boring – Elon Musk’s December 2018 unveiling of his 1+ mile tunnel in Hawthorne, CA was widely derided by transportation experts as being unfeasible as a potential subway alternative. The real break-through was an order of magnitude reduction in cost for boring, compared to traditional methods. The techniques he employed for boring, along with low-cost, autonomous electric shuttles, which will become common by 2037, could make point-to-point transit projects financially viable, such as a connector between the Santa Clara train station and SJC. For a high-level analysis of one such scenario, please click here.
Solar, Energy Storage & Microgrids – The cost of electricity from alternative energy sources and associated storage continues to drop and is already close to parity with electricity from fossil fuel powered generators (see this article as a recent example). By combining power generation and storage, it is possible to create a microgrid, independent from the larger grid, providing resilience in the event of an outage from a manmade or natural disaster.
Land will Become More Valuable – Unless there is an economic Armageddon, Silicon Valley land will continue to become more precious and will be reflected in the cost of housing. If we want to have a middle class, we will need to more efficiently utilize the land already devoted to housing, mix-use to reduce vehicle miles traveled and look at ways to better use land now dedicated to automobiles. Patrick Kennedy of Panoramic Interests puts it well with his statement that we need high-quality designs that are micro, modular and car-free if we are going to begin to tackle the high cost of housing.
Comments on the EIR
The following comments are made in the context of the above premises for how things will be different in 2037.
[Updated 1/31/19] Do the air traffic growth projections account for a possible reduction in international and transcontinental service that will likely result, if the City of San Jose adopts the Airport’s recommendation in its January 10th, 2019 memo?
What is the plan to accommodate electric vertical take-off & landing (VTOL) and other air taxis that may become both an airport connector (e.g. SJC-SFO, like the helicopter shuttles that flew between those airports in the 1960s), as well as an alternative shuttle to get to the airport (air taxi, such as what Uber proposes)? Specifically,
What will be the impact on the airside operations (e.g. new pads to accommodate electric VTOL shuttle take-off and landings for inter-airport flights)?
What will be the impact on the landside operations? For instance, will the airport need to build new pads, say, on top of a parking lot, to accommodate electric VTOL air taxi take-off and landings for air taxi service (e.g. building to-airport flights, where the passengers check-in and pass through screening after being dropped off by an Air Taxi)?
Could T-8 be more generalized to include other types of buildings, such as hotel, workforce housing, offices, etc.? This might require zoning that isn’t possible in today’s code (e.g. housing on airport property).
Could the scope of T16 (hotel) include the flexibility to include things such as building above a parking lot? Could it also include a bridge over the road that separates it from the terminal? This bridge might also be part of the building, effectively using the space above the road for offices (e.g. SJC admin offices), hotel rooms and, potentially, workforce housing.
What about the property that is just north of DeLaCruz/Trimble that had the Radar field. That should be looked at for some activity, such a solar power field.
Regarding solar power and energy storage, what opportunities are there to integrate solar power (e.g. ring the fences with solar collectors, as an example) and does this need to be mentioned in the General Plan?
[Disclaimer: The ideas and views in this post do not represent any of Ken Pyle’s professional or volunteer roles (including his role as SJC Airport Commissioner) and are strictly his own.]
An order of magnitude less expensive than traditional tunneling methods is the promise of The Boring Company. Assuming The Boring Company’s numbers are close to accurate, this could be a game-changer, if not for entire networks of transportation, like Elon Musk envisions, but for point-to-point solutions.
This brief analysis looks at one such challenge, which is ferrying people from SJC, Silicon Valley’s Airport, to the Santa Clara train station, which is expected to be a major hub with service from Caltrans, BART, and High-Speed Rail.
[Added 2/8/19 – On February 5th, 2019, the San Jose Mercury News reported that San Jose Mayor Liccardo is pushing for an RFI to explore a direct connection via the Diridon train station and SJC. This author recommends that both that linkage, as well as linkage mentioned herein, is explored in such an RFI. Also in that RFI, consideration for adding bike/pedestrian connectivity, perhaps as a second tunnel, should be considered. As referenced in this submission to the City of San Jose regarding the Airport Master Plan, such connectivity should be part of a larger vision that connects North San Jose, Santa Clara, Santana Row, Bart/Berryessa, and Downtown.]
What Makes The Boring Company’s Approach Different
The Boring Company is doing some innovative, but not exactly exotic, things to reduce costs, including boring smaller tunnels than would be needed for traditional transit, turning the dirt into bricks (instead of hauling it away) and running the boring machines 24-hours per day using electricity and via robotics.
This technology could provide for an interesting connector between SJC and the Santa Clara train station. At $10M per mile, this might be a fairly inexpensive way to create a connector to the airport (T-18 on page 38 of the VTA VTP-2040 Plan). To be clear, this would be unlike The Boring Company’s proposal where private vehicles would be lifted up and down. The electric, pod-like vehicles would stay in the tunnel.
Assumptions and Business Case:
The following spreadsheet provides a rough estimate of capital and operating costs based on a set of assumptions. To directly access the spreadsheet, go to this link:
Of course, there are a lot of assumptions in the above model (e.g. could there really be a demand of 1M passengers (that would represent only about 7.5% of current SJC passenger demand, so maybe not too far off). It might eat into parking revenue and TNC revenue, but it could be priced accordingly. Also, the vehicles would probably have to be sized to carry about 16 people max (to get the average of 8 people), but they could probably use the same skateboard, as an existing Tesla and wouldn’t need all the interior bells and whistles of a Tesla).
Some assumptions, like the cost of electricity and even the cost of the pod vehicles, could be lower (e.g. inductive charging through the concrete could greatly reduce the battery size on the pod vehicles, life could be more like 500k miles), lowering upfront costs and ongoing electricity needs. There is slack built in the above model, so, for example, say the number of passengers is less than half assumed, then the operating and amortization of capital costs would increase to $2.87 per passenger; not good, but lower than a price of $3 per passenger.
Clearly, the above model needs refinement, but it appears to be compelling enough that it deserves further study by VTA & SJC.
Visions of Life in the Year 2040 Along the Winchester Boulevard corridor between Hamilton and Hedding