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San Diego County To Study Changes For McClellan-Palomar Airport

The private Premier Jet Terminal at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Nov. 10, 2015.
Beverley Woodworth
The private Premier Jet Terminal at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Nov. 10, 2015.

San Diego County To Study Changes For McClellan-Palomar Airport
San Diego County supervisors directed staff to launch a study on possibly moving and extending the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, which could improve the facility's usefulness for larger business jets and small commercial airliners.

San Diego County supervisors Wednesday directed staff to launch a study on possibly moving and extending the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, which could improve the facility's usefulness for larger business jets and small commercial airliners.

The Board of Supervisors chose from among three options for a new master plan to guide development of the general aviation airfield over the next two decades.

McClellan-Palomar Airport is currently rated as a B-II class facility by the Federal Aviation Administration, meaning it can accommodate approach speeds and wingspans of midsize business jets. However, county staff says a significant number of larger jets are using the airport, which is near a center of high tech businesses and ritzy Rancho Santa Fe.

The supervisors unanimously accepted a staff recommendation for a modified step up to a class — C/D-III — that would allow for physical changes to better provide for the larger aircraft. The staff recommendation doesn't exactly fit existing federal criteria, so the county would have to seek an FAA waiver.

Among other things, the single runway would be shifted to the north by 123 feet to increase separation from the main parallel taxiway.

The estimated $104 million in upgrades could also lead to a runway extension of up to 800 feet. The FAA may contribute 90 percent of the cost.

McLellan Palomar airport’s runway is short - just under 5,000 feet - a limiting factor preventing a commercial airline from providing service for North

County residents. Some aircraft now using McClellan-Palomar can't take off fully loaded and fully fueled.

Many planes take off and land at the airport, but they are private corporate jets. Seventy of the 300 aircraft that are housed at the airport are corporate jets.

A 2013 feasibility study found that a 900-foot extension could add more than $162 million in economic benefits to the region over 20 years.

Staff also said an extension to the east would let many aircraft take off earlier, thereby reducing noise in neighborhoods to the west of the runway, which would maintain its 150-foot width. But an extension could cost more than $100 million because the area to the east of the runway is a former landfill. The FAA would pay only a limited share of the cost of an extension, leaving the county to look for other sources of revenue.

The recommended master plan approved by the supervisors includes a possible 800 foot extension, but County Supervisor Bill Horn asked staff to study the option of a 900 foot extension. He suggested the runway could even be built over Camino Real which makes up the eastern boundary of the current property.

“I just want you to make sure that you think out of the box here because we have a huge asset," Horn said. "We have a lot of acres here. We have an opportunity to make it into a rising star. I think we should do that."

Carl Morgan, CEO of the San Diego North Economic Development Council, told supervisors North County’s business community is keen to see the runway lengthened.

“We ask you to consider the 900-foot runway extension, essentially getting the airport to its maximum extended runway length and doing it in the shortest time frame possible,” Morgan said. “Your vote today to move forward will take us one step closer to getting new regional jets to operate at maximum capabilities, and allow our residents and business travelers to reach all major domestic destinations and aboard.”

Staff said an extension to the runway to the east would let many aircraft take off earlier, thereby reducing noise in neighborhoods to the west of the runway.

But Stephanie Jackel, a resident of neighboring Vista, said, while studies have focused on the noise levels of aircraft taking off from Palomar to the west, Vista residents are experiencing bigger, noisier aircraft approaching to land from the east.

“On behalf of the beleaguered residents of Vista, I implore you to include consideration of the noise impacts of aircraft approaches to Palomar in the master plan," Jackel said. "We are suffering now.”

With the supervisors' approval in hand, staff will conduct environmental studies that will look at noise effects and various runway lengths. They're scheduled to return with a full master plan and draft environmental impact report in early 2017.

"I think this is moving the process along," Supervisor Dave Roberts said. "We're going to find out what the impacts are and then we can make a decision (on airport plans) at that point."

Corrected: June 30, 2022 at 5:17 PM PDT
KPBS North County Bureau reporter Alison St john contributd to this story