Larger wingspans drive changes at Palomar Airport

Larger wingspans drive changes at Palomar Airport
Four alternatives for the Palomar Airport Master Plan were shown to the public April 30. Engineers from the design firm Kimley-Horn and associates answered questions throughout the evening. Photo by Ellen Wright

CARLSBAD—The 56-year-old McClellan-Palomar Airport is due for a Master Plan update, which provides a 20-year blueprint for the airport.

Kimley-Horn and Associates, the civics engineering company tasked with the project, plans on updating the airport for faster jets with larger wingspans.

Charter and airline companies are using more jets with larger wingspans because of better fuel economy and greater range.

The only commercial service at the airport was canceled because SkyWest Airlines, which operated daily flights to Los Angeles through United Airlines, phased out the use of Embraer 120 Brasilia turboprops last month.

Kimley-Horn and Associates held the third public workshop April 30 to update the city on the process, which is likely to take years.

Vince Hourigan, Master Plan project manager, said the airport would never be able to support jumbo jets, like Boeing 747s.

“It is not going to be a large, commercial airport. It would never fit,” Hourigan said.

The airport caters to corporate jets and sees about 6,000 round trip flights annually.

Larger wingspans, like that of this Cessna Citation Sovereign, are driving the changes at Palomar Airport. Many airline and charter companies favor them because of the increased range and better fuel economy. Photo by Ellen Wright

Larger wingspans, like that of this Cessna Citation Sovereign, are driving the changes at Palomar Airport. Many airline and charter companies favor them because of the increased range and better fuel economy. Photo by Ellen Wright

“Palomar serves as a significant center for corporate aviation activity for the entire county,” Hourigan said.

At the meeting, staff presented four options to the public, which had been whittled down from 15.

Hourigan said only three options proved likely contenders for adoption because one was too cost prohibitive.

That option includes all of the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety recommendations.

David Riverson, an associate with Kimley-Horn, said the FAA understands not all of the stringent guidelines can be met but the option was included as a baseline for safety standards.

“Frankly, it set a benchmark that is way beyond what we believe to be even viable to consider,” Riverson said. “But it is important to have that as a starting point with the FAA, because their first question is going to be: ‘Can you meet standard? Can you meet your future demand? Can you meet the role your airport has? And if you can’t make sure you can prove you can’t and tell us why.’”

The other options include extending the runway either 800 or 900 feet to accommodate light jets like the Gulfstream G650 or the Global Express.

The design criteria take into account approach speed and wingspan.

Hourigan said no noise studies have been done yet because it would be premature.

Once they’ve selected a preferred alternative, they will conduct noise change studies to test how a possible runway extension and different types of planes would affect the noise in the area.

Slower planes are perceived louder because they can be heard longer, Hourigan said.

The longer runway would allow planes to take off sooner, which would reduce noise.

According to information from 2008, the airport employs 360 people for a combined total personal income of $22 million.

Businesses in the airport generate $117 million in revenue.

Staff will take input from the public, surrounding cities and their planning departments, and stakeholders at the airport.

After they’ve gathered all the input, they will develop a preferred alternative, which will be brought in front of the public again in fall.

The California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, review will also begin then, said Hourigan.

More public input is taken and then a draft is finalized. That draft goes in front of the FAA for approval.

The County Board of Supervisors makes the final decision for the master plan, which will be in effect for 20 more years.

Officials estimate the draft plan will be ready to go in front of the Board of Supervisors next summer.

The Master Plan doesn’t guarantee changes will be made. Each project will still require funding and additional CEQA approval on a project-by-project basis.

The county published a feasibility study, which reported airport improvements would add an estimated $163.2 million to the local economy in the next two decades.

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