Alison St. John KPBS-NPR
County To Consider Extending Runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport
September 24, 2013
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  • Expanding the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport in North County could allow direct flights to places as far away as China. A new feasibility study suggests a longer runway could improve safety and reduce noise for nearby residents.

    It’s not a plan that’s going to take off in the immediate future, but a 15-month feasibility study shows extending the runway at McClellan-Palomar Airport by 900 feet to the east would help reduce the noise pattern of planes taking off.

    Noise has been been a major complaint from nearby residents. By starting the take-off farther east and closer to El Camino Real, the worst noise footprint would be shifted away from homes and over more commercial areas, according to Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall.

    A proposal to build a “safety stretch” at the west end of the runway would help stop planes from overshooting the runway as they land, an accident that has happened more than once in the past. The stretch would be covered in a kind of tile that breaks up as an aircraft ploughs through it, slowing it down without substantially damaging the plane.

    San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn said expanding Palomar Airport would attract new business and jobs to North County. He said it would also attract significant new revenue.

    “We already have a revenue increase to 180 million bucks a year from about $60 million,” he said. “It’s a big economic boon.“

    Carlsbad Mayor Hall said a longer runway is not about allowing bigger planes to take off, rather, it would let planes take off with a bigger fuel load.

    “So instead of having to stop once on the way to Asia or Europe, now they can almost reach out and do it out in one flight,” Hall said. “So that’s key to what we’re trying to do here.“

    Diagrams suggest planes taking off from an expanded runway in Carlsbad would not be able to reach Europe, but could make it as far as China, a significant development for companies working on Pacific Rim trade.

    Carlsbad is developing a biotech sector that would benefit from more direct international connections. Currently, United is the only commercial airline to fly out of McClellan-Palomar: San Diegans can use that airline to fly to a limited number of destinations

    The runway expansion would cost an estimated $95 million. Supervisor Horn said FAA grants would cover most of that but about $35 million would have to be raised locally.

    The county’s airport director, Peter Drinkwater said in the last decade, San Diego County has invested about $75 million in upgrades to the runway and a new departure lounge; Private companies have invested twice that amount.

    The Board of Supervisors will consider the feasibility study at their meeting on Wednesday.