CARLSBAD — The County Airports Administration is studying the possibility of extending the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport, an improvement that could allow safety, revenues and more aircraft to soar.
In 2011, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors authorized a feasibility study of runway improvements as part of preparations of McClellan-Palomar Airport’s 2015-2035 Master Plan.
The resulting study, which was completed earlier this month by Kimley-Horn and Associates for the County, recommended improving the west end portion of the runway and put forth three different alternatives for extending the runway over the landfill at the edge of the airport’s property.
The cost of the project alternatives studied ranges from $48 million and $95 million and would be paid for with local, regional and federal funds, according to the study.
But the additional air traffic from the longest runway extension alternatives has the potential to bring in an added $163.2 million in additional revenues and a $500 million increase in local and state tax collections within 20 years, the study stated.
The improvements would increase safety and operational efficiency and in doing so accommodate an increase in ground and air traffic at the airport.
Furthermore, a longer runway would allow heavier aircraft carrying larger fuel loads for traveling longer distances to take off from the airport.
The study first and foremost recommended that the county improve the grading and materials of the airport’s west end runway, where 97 percent of the aircraft take off. The changes would reduce or prevent aircraft overrun during departure.
County Communications Specialist Gig Conaughton clarified that the airport does not have any safety deficiencies at this time and the recommended improvements to the west end would act as a “safety precaution.”
The study also put forth alternatives that would extend the runway by either 22 feet or 900 feet and connect one or both of the airport’s taxiways.
A runway extension would require the airport to reinforce and build on top of the former municipal solid waste landfill located at the end of the current runway.
All of the alternatives would involve night construction plus potential daytime closures of certain parts of the airport for construction.
Even though more planes could take off from McClellan-Palomar Airport with these improvements, noise levels in the areas would actually decrease. The runway expansion would put departing aircraft at higher elevations to the west so that noise would extend over EL Camino Real and county property only.
The study eliminated one alternative that would enable McClellan-Palomar Airport to meet FAA design requirements for accommodating larger aircraft because the alternative would have required an extensive and expensive redesign of the entire airport.
Under the approved alternatives, the airport would maintain design standards for handling B-II aircraft, which have a wingspan between 49-79 feet and tail height between 20-30 feet, instead of advancing to accommodate larger C-III aircraft.
However, the study noted that C-III aircraft are already utilizing McClellan-Palomar Airport and forecasts expect this usage to increase in the future.
Yet under FAA regulations, the airport has no way of banning these larger planes from its runway; the decision to use the airport for larger aircraft is left to the operator and pilots of these planes as long as they abide by the Code of Federal Regulations for aircraft operation.
The Palomar Airport Advisory Committee approved the study on Aug. 15, according to Conaughton. The study will be put before the County Board of Supervisors for approval at its Sept. 25 meeting.
The runway improvements would be subject to FAA approval as well as state and federal environmental laws if the County Board of Supervisors decided to pursue any of the project options included in the study.