CARLSBAD — After years of meetings, lobbying and lawsuits, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the McClellan-Palomar Airport Master Plan during its Dec. 8 meeting.
The board also approved moving forward with a 200-foot extension of the runway with an engineered material arresting system (EMAS) for safety; directed staff to work on a D-III configuration, which would return to the board for approval; develop a sustainability plan; and engage the Federal Aviation Administration over noise, quiet hours and penalties for aircraft violating quiet hours.
The master plan returned to the board after the county addressed a judicial order that required the county to include a supplemental noise analysis and ordering the county to obtain a conditional use permit-172 from the City of Carlsbad if the design status of the airport is changed to accommodate the “design critical aircraft,” according to the staff report.
The estimated cost is $41.7 million, with $37.5 million coming from FAA funding, according to the staff report.
“It’s almost like the problem isn’t bad enough for the FAA,” Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said. “The concern I’ve heard is the noise, traffic and that the noise and traffic will get worse. It’s a very important issue and very contentious.”
The D-III designation would allow for larger jets, although the airport, under the jurisdiction of the FAA, currently allows D-III aircraft.
Frank Sung, a member of Citizens for a Friendly Airport, a group of residents fighting against the master plan and the D-III designation, said “we are better off today.” He said the group is happy the airport will remain a B-II facility, although Sung said there still are concerns over the possible 200-foot runway extension the county is “claiming to justify a yet longer runway.”
The group filed a lawsuit in 2018 against the county for violating the California Environmental Quality Act and in 2019 against the City of Carlsbad and county. The city also filed suit against the county in 2018 for violating CEQA.
Dozens of North County residents also called into the meeting and hundreds sent letters in opposition including a petition with 2,200 signatures against the county’s plan. Their concerns varied from noise levels, emissions, air traffic and worries over the county expanding the footprint to be like John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
“We will be watching the D-III design considerations very carefully to ensure that the county abides by both the spirit and the letter of the court’s ruling,” Sung said. “We will also be watching the City of Carlsbad’s response since any runway extension requires the county to go back to the city for approval. This is a good opportunity for the City of Carlsbad to assert authority which was handed to them as a result of C4FA’s lawsuit against the county’s 2018 Master Plan.”
Additionally, Carlsbad City Manager Scott Chadwick sent two letters, including one on Dec. 3, to the county regarding the EIR voicing concerns over the county’s actions. His Dec. 3 letter said the county has not addressed the city’s concerns and the master plan remains “vulnerable” to legal action.
The letter also voices concerns the county has not addressed the Superior Court’s determination the county waived its immunities and that the county has immunities from Carlsbad ordinances.
Cam Humphries, the county’s airport director, said the master plan does not support being scaled to match John Wayne Airport.
At its peak, he said, the number of takeoffs or landings was 300,000 per year. Currently, McClellan-Palomar Airport is between 130,000 to 140,000. Humphries said the forecast’s highest activity level is 208,000.
He said nothing in master plan proposes to increase the capacity, while also saying a longer runway allows jets to gain altitude faster, thus reducing noise over the flight path. Humphries said 90% of the complaints the country receives regarding noise are from smaller propellor planes in the “traffic pattern” practicing takeoffs and landings.
Also, the airport already operates at a D-III designation with 40% of the planes based at the facility being jets. Humphries also stated the FAA has most of the control of the airport and overall air commerce.
As for the John Wayne comparisons, Humphries along with Supervisor Jim Desmond said the runway, if moved and rebuilt, will not meet safety or design standards to handle a 737 jumbo jet.
Desmond, a former Delta pilot, said he has no intention of creating another John Wayne, but voiced his support for the D-III designation. He cited the EMAS for more safety measures and added economic benefits for the region.
Humphries said part of the plan includes economic estimates at full development and includes 6,720 jobs, $1 billion in economic activity and $160 million in tax revenue.
“I want to ensure it’s safe and quiet as possible for today and into the future,” Desmond added. “Planes get airborne sooner and the less you hear it. They will get higher sooner and most of the noise footprint over the runway instead of the neighborhoods. And it increases the margin of safety.”
Lawson-Remer, meanwhile, said the county should begin discussions with the FAA regarding noise and its moratorium on voluntary quiet hours, which was enacted in 1990. If the FAA declines to institute quiet hours, she said the follow-up would be to request additional costs or fees for aircraft violating quiet hours.