All the recently approved plans to grow the San Jose skyline taller may put a huge financial toll on San Jose Mineta International Airport, and the airlines that serve the facility due to federal regulations about tall buildings near airports.
Two years ago, the city of San Jose adopted a new rule allowing buildings in the downtown area to be built 35 feet taller, and structures around Diridon Station are now allowed to rise up 150 feet higher.
The reason it’s a big deal is that the Federal Aviation Administration requires airlines to fly with a reduced number of passengers depending on the height of buildings. Since San Jose Mineta is relatively close to the downtown area, it has been getting hit harder by the restriction.
“We chose a scenario where the airport and airlines lost and the developers won,” San Jose Airport Commission Chair Dan Connolly told San Jose Spotlight.
Last week, the city enacted another rule to help shoulder the burden of the costs. Developers must pay steep fees during construction if their cranes go past the height limit set for downtown. The money goes to airlines to help compensate passengers who may have to be bumped from their flights because of the needed reduction in passengers. Connolly is worried because those funds won’t actually be collected during the first 6 months of the cranes being at their sites. The fees are only scheduled to be collected after six months.
Both the San Jose Downtown Association and the public policy non-profit SPUR supported the plan for the crane fees. “I think the policy is fine as is. It was always part of the equation," said Fred Buzo, San Jose director for SPUR, speaking to San Jose Spotlight. "I don’t think this is a bad thing at this point, but we’ll see. It’s still a long-term project and we’ll keep our eye on it for sure.”
Connolly claims that airlines have already lost out on $2.5 million in revenue because of the reduction in passengers and he says developers failed to even consider passengers into the equation. “There’s not one mention anywhere of the impact to passengers. They just don’t care. I think it’s wrong that families plan their vacation, then the next thing you know they may get bumped off a flight from Hawaii,” Connolly told San Jose Spotlight.
The airport’s financial situation isn’t in the best shape as it is. It is still trying to pay off its $1.5 billion dollar expansion project while spending millions in international marketing to try to take traffic away from SFO and Oakland International Airport. China Air and Lufthansa recently left San Jose Mineta and Connolly believes the height restriction is a big reason why. “If it’s not economically viable, a carrier is just going to go to Oakland or San Francisco with their route. We should not, in my opinion, be putting the financial burden on the backs of the airlines. They didn’t make this decision, the city did,” Connolly told San Jose Spotlight.