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Supervisors Receive McClellan-Palomar Airport Study

San Diego County Supervisors voted to "receive" the feasibility study, declining to use the word "accept," which might have implied they agreed to its proposed plan for McLellan-Palomar Airpot

Aired 9/26/13 on KPBS News.

San Diego County Supervisors received a study that concludes it would be feasible to extend the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.

The expansion would extend the runway east by 900 feet over an old landfill, allowing corporate jets to fly from Carlsbad non-stop to the east coast and China.

Carlsbad is nurturing a cluster of biotech companies, and hopes providing easier international connections will encourage the growth of this biotech hub.

Currently the only commercial airline that flies in and out of Palomar Airport is United Express, which flies 15 shuttles a day to Los Angeles

Another private airline that hopes to operate out of the airport, California Pacific Airlines, was recently denied a Federal Aviation Administration license.

Construction of the extension and a safety apron at the west end to stop airplane overruns, would cost more than $90 million. Supervisor Bill Horn said some of that could be funded with FAA grants, but more than $30 million would need to be raised locally.

This may seem like a tall order, but Peter Drinkwater, the county's airport director estimated the San Diego County has already invested about $75 million in upgrading the runway and the airport in recent years, and private corporations have invested $130 million.

A private corporation terminal at Mcclellan-Palomar Airport, Carlsbad

Several high-end corporate departure lounges overshadow the smaller public departure lounge at the edge of the airstrip.

The $650,000 feasibility study estimates a 900-foot runway extension would generate in the next 20 years an extra $160 million in economic benefits to the region.

The mayors of several North County cities endorsed the idea, but San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond warned that this situation is not one that should ignored the complaints of neighboring residents.

“In this case,” Desmond told the board, “the people are already there first, and now the airport is extending its footprint. How are the people going to be affected? If you’re going to extend the airport, you’ve got to think about the surrounding community.”

Only six people showed up at the supervisors’ chambers to speak on the issue, and only one was a resident who lives near the airport.

Ray Bender, who opposes the expansion, lives six miles away. He said he has spent thousands of hours studying the airport and its expansion plans. He argues in a blog published by Carlsbad Patch that the county is underestimating the costs and overestimating the benefits of expanding the runway. Bender also said the plan will not pass California’s environmental review.

The county plans to fold the conclusions of the feasibility study into a 20-year master plan for McClellan Palomar Airport, and will accept public input. That process could end in 2015.

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