McClellan-Palomar Airport. Photo: County of San Diego

San Diego County supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved a master plan for the McClellan-Palomar Airport near Carlsbad, which includes lengthening the runway and safety enhancements.

After an hour-plus public hearing, followed by numerous questions from supervisors, the board adopted a master plan that:

  • extends the runway 200 feet at both ends, taking the runway over 5,000 feet and allowing for commercial/passenger aircraft based on Federal Aviation Administration guidelines
  • directs staff to work on a configuration — which would need future board approval — that would shift the runway north and extend it up to 800 feet, allowing aircraft with longer wingspans to better move around the airport
  • directs staff to continue to work with the FAA on noise concerns, which could include allowing “quiet hours” for takeoffs and landings, or letting the county charge fees if pilots don’t comply with quiet hour requests

County staff members will also produce a sustainability plan for all airports, including McClellan-Palomar, which is located three miles south of Carlsbad. The county has owned and operated the airport for 41 years.

In 2015, supervisors directed staff to update the airport’s master plan. In 2018, the board approved a master plan update, only to rescind it after a Superior Court judge ruled that the plan didn’t consider how airport noise would affect surrounding communities.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer proposed the county work with the FAA on noise concerns, and also for a shorter runway designation.

“This is an issue that is so incredibly important to people,” she said. “The middle ground is the way to go.”

Supervisor Jim Desmond, a retired Delta Air Lines pilot, said his priorities are to ensure the airport is safe and operates as quietly as possible. Desmond said he was very excited about a future airport sustainability plan.

Supporters said an airport expansion would be economically beneficial. Josh Hochberg, an executive with the Carlsbad Jet Center facility, said lengthening the airport by 900 feet would be safer by allowing pilots to take off and reach their desired altitude more quickly.

“There’s an old saying in aviation: ‘There’s nothing less useful than the runway behind you, or the altitude above you,'” Hochberg said.

Clayton Lackey, also of Carlsbad Jet Center, said the facility was just renovated and employs more than 160 people. He noted that the airport also accommodates flights for fire safety and organ donation.

Alex Gertson of the National Business Aviation Association said the airport is an essential economic engine for the region. “We must nurture this valuable county asset — not suffocate it,” he added.

Opponents of the expansion cited noise and jet fuel pollution concerns, and said the airport doesn’t serve the general public.

Frank Sung, a Carlsbad resident and member of Citizens for a Friendly Airport, said no plan can mitigate additional greenhouse gases or other types of pollution, or handle more traffic on failed roads near the airport.

He added that an expanded plan is very unpopular with area residents, with 2,200 of them having signed a petition against it.

“Let’s have some straight talk here — this expansion isn’t about safety, this is not about bringing commercial passenger service to North County — it’s all about unloading corporate and private jets from San Diego International and possibly bringing freight operations to (Palomar),” Sung said.

Another opponent said expanding the airport would hurt low-income residents the most. She asked if the board cares “more about us, or corporate interests and those of the ‘one percent?'”

Peter Anderson of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club reminded supervisors that the county is already under a court order to produce a new climate action plan, and said any proposed airport expansion would harm that effort.

Updated at 4:35 p.m. December 8, 2021

City News Service contributed to this article.

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