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Comment Period Opens On Palomar Airport Master Plan

Aired 3/2/16 on KPBS News.

North County residents have this month to comment on plans to expand Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. The county is working on an Environmental Impact Report for a new 20-year master plan.

Residents write comments for an environmental report on plans to improve Palomar Airport to accommodate larger jets. February 29th 2016

North County residents have this month to comment on plans to expand Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. The county is working on an Environmental Impact Report for a new 20-year master plan.

Palomar Airport is being used by bigger and bigger corporate jets. Last year 6,000 of the estimated 134,000 landings and takeoffs were by planes larger than the runway is designed to handle.

San Diego County, which owns the land, has approved a plan that would make changes to increase safety and meet Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

Monday night’s public hearing gave residents a chance to see a timeline of the proposed changes.

Palomar Airport runway in Carlsbad viewed from the east, December 2015.

Consultant Vince Hourigan said the runway could be lengthened in phases: 200 feet in the next seven years and then another 600 feet within about 15 years.

The airstrip is built on an old landfill and an extension would have to be constructed on piles drilled to 40 feet deep to reach bedrock, which would be expensive.

In the meantime, the runway will be repositioned to create more space around it to accommodate planes with wider wingspans. Air traffic in and out of the airport is mostly corporate jets. Commercial airlines have failed to establish a workable business model, though United said a runway expansion might make commercial service more viable.

The airstrip is currently classified for class B II aircraft, which have wingspans up to 78 feet and approach speeds of up to 120 knots. The goal of moving the airstrip to the north would be to meet criteria for C III aircraft with wingspans of up to 117 feet and approach speeds of 140 knots.

A poster board at a public hearing in Carlsbad shows the difference between B II Aircraft and C III aircraft. The county is collecting public comment on an environmental report for a new 20-year master plan, Feb. 29, 2016.

Noise is a concern for nearby residents in Carlsbad, Vista and San Marcos. Hourigan said the newer, larger jets can be quieter than older, smaller aircraft.

LeAnn Carmichael, of the Department of Public Works, said public comments can relate to traffic, air quality, biology and anything to do with environmental concerns.

“Noise is probably one of the big ones,” she said. "But we expect the public to have differing viewpoints on the environmental issues in the area. We’re hoping to get their comments in the next 30 days to help shape that environmental impact report."

The expansion plans would cost tens of millions of dollars. Once the draft environmental impact report is approved, possibly by fall of 2017, the next step would be to see how much the FAA would be willing to subsidize

Hourigan said aircraft traffic is expected to increase by about one percent per year, with larger jets becoming more common. But he said changes couldn’t happen at the airport until the EIR is completed. Now is a critical time for residents, since this is the 30-day window to submit comments on their environmental concerns.

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