Sunday, January 04, 2015

COMMENTARY: Point: Carlsbad airport expansion, a win-win for North County

Sunday, January 4, 2015 6:00 am
by Thomas K. Arnold

As we close the books on one year and turn the page to 2015, I predict one hot-button issue will be the proposed expansion of Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport.

It used to be a promising little field, offering those of us who live an hour either way from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field or Orange County’s John Wayne a fast and easy way to fly out of town, either directly to cities within a close radius or to anywhere, really, thanks to several daily flights to Los Angeles, a major international hub.

But even though North County’s population has soared over the last two decades, what we all thought of as the little airport that could, couldn’t.

American Eagle and U.S. Airways both scrapped their flights to Los Angeles and Phoenix. California Pacific Airlines, a homegrown upstart that was eyeballing flights to Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, Phoenix, Las Vegas and, eventually, Cabo San Lucas, never got off the ground due to persistent problems with its applications, according to the FAA.

And come May, United Airlines, the lone holdout, says it will scrap its seven daily flights to Los Angeles, saying the new fleet of jets flying under the United Express banner can’t land on the airport’s short runway.

There’s potential salvation ahead: county supervisors will entertain a proposal to extend the runway from its present 4,897 feet to 5,797 feet, a move that could lead to a boom in cargo traffic in and out of Palomar. According to a 500-page feasibility study, the 900-foot extension would let the airport serve planes flying to the East Coast and Asia, a definite boon to local companies in the aerospace, biotech and other industries. The runway still wouldn’t be long enough to accommodate bigger jets, but planes that currently use the airport would be able to carry more fuel and thus travel further.

The study also indicates a runway extension would offer a good return on investment. Much of the $90-million cost, county officials have said, would come from federal grants, while the local economy would get a $160-million lift over the ensuing two decades.

And that’s not even factoring in the possibility of wooing back some commercial passenger carriers who gave up because dealing with the airport and its existing short runway was too much of a hassle.

But there’s one big roadblock—or, should I say, patch of turbulence—ahead: NIMBYs who live near the airport are already raising noise and safety concerns.

Shades of déjà vu to when I was living in Point Loma, and every time someone brought up the subject of expanding Lindbergh Field people who lived under the flight path would howl in dismay. Never mind the fact that the airport was there long before most of the homes were built; pay no attention to the fact that most of the people who bought their homes knew full well there was an airport nearby. Now that they live there, they’d be happiest if the airport went away completely and the runway turned into open space where their kids could frolic and play ball, and where they could take long sunset walks with the family dog.

Don’t get me started on the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) angle. I will say, though, that according to the study a runway extension would lead to less noise and improved safety. With a longer runway, planes would fly higher as they pass over homes because they could take off more quickly. That means less noise. In addition, the extension plan calls for the creation of a 315-foot safety zone that would slow down planes in the event of an emergency.

There’s no logical argument against extending the runway at Carlsbad’s airport. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any controversy, and lots of it, as the day the board of supervisors makes its decision draws near.

Let’s just hope common sense—not hysteria—prevails. If the runway extension is approved, we are all going to win. 


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