Carlsbad airport master plan proposal heads to county

Carlsbad airport master plan proposal heads to county
A plane comes in for landing Monday at the McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. The airport committee approved an improvement plan last week, which includes extended the east runway shown above. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — A runway extension and other improvements at Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport is gearing up for take off.

The airport advisory committee unanimously supported a proposal to upgrade the facility on Oct. 22 as part of a new 20-year Master Plan. The matter will be submitted to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who will consider adopting the measure in summer 2016.

Numerous residents in attendance, however, railed against the proposal citing noise and traffic concerns and a lack of commercial carriers available to North County residents.

Peter Drinkwater, the county airports manager, presented three possible options to the committee, although staff’s recommendation was for a C/D-III modified alternative, with a 900-foot runway extension on the east side. The price tag for the upgrades is estimated at more than $100 million.

“If it remains a B-II and we are not striving to make those improvements, we’re really not addressing the reality of the operations at the airport,” Drinkwater said.

Currently, the airport is designated a B-II with more than 6,000 C, D and III operations yearly. The designations determine the wingspan and approach speeds of aircraft allowed to operate at the facility.

The new classification already fits the size and scope of aircraft operating at the airport, Drinkwater said.

“FAA guidance says that when an airport has 500 or more of operations of aircraft in an approach category or design group greater than the current airport design, then planning should commence to determine how to meet these standards,” Drinkwater said.

He said the recommended proposal conforms to all standards with modifications north of the runway, reducing it from 400 feet to 362.

The other options, including continuing the B-II designation, were not favored by the committee.

“With our reality being 6,000 in this class today, there could be questions about funding our development as a B-II airport because that’s not in conformance of regulations,” said Chuck Collins, chairman of the committee. “To be in conformance, we should go to the different design because that would ensure the opportunity for funding. That’s how I understand it.”

As for the noise, Drinkwater and Vince Hourigan of Kimley-Horn, a consultant on the project, said the extended runway will allow aircraft to gain altitude faster and thus reduce noise pollution.

Stephanie Jackal of the South Vista Communities, a nonprofit supporting quality of life, was against the proposal. She said quality of life for residents is “utterly being ignored.”

“Noise (issues) only comes up on takeoffs, but what about landings?” she asked the board. “Until something is fixed, we are not in favor of your Master Plan.”

Larry Posner of Carlsbad said he has heard these stories before and railed against the project.

“How many carriers are leaving and not coming back?” he asked. “There are not enough people. United Express … what happened to them? A new one came in and they’re gone. You got to have the action for them to come. Extending the runway won’t help.”

Also in support of the plan were the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, San Diego North Economic Development Council and North County’s largest tech employer, ViaSat.

“We provide communications for avionics and this is an issue near and dear to our heart,” said James Person, director of Global Business Development for ViaSat. “We are in favor of a runway extension. Traffic out of the airport has dropped by about 66 percent for our employees. Our customers have to reposition to S.D. and pick up fuel before heading to Asia. It’s a waste of resources. We need the airport for our customers as well as our employees.”

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