Competitive hot dog eater Sonya Thomas’ vital statistics are 98, 37,12. Ninety-eight pounds, 37 hot dogs, 12 minutes. She won’t best the men’s champion Joey Chestnut: 201, 68,10. Yep 201 pounds, 68 dogs in 10 minutes. But, pound for pound, you might say the women win.
What do Sonya and Joey teach us? That small people and small things can have enormous capacity. Which brings us to Palomar Airport.
The County wants to expand the Palomar Airport runway. From 4900 feet to 6,000 feet, longer than the sole John Wayne airport runway in Orange county. The County has under way an $800,000 study to justify the extension. Why? Is a longer runway necessary to handle more planes, more passengers, or to increase safety?
Palomar Aircraft Operations Can More Than Double Without a Longer Runway
In 1999 Palomar had 291,000 aircraft “operations” (landings and takeoffs) and in 2012 about half as many.
According to the 2012 FAA California Pacific Airlines Environmental Assessment, a new airline could start operations at Palomar tomorrow using new Embraer turbo jet aircraft carrying 80 passengers. These aircraft are larger than most aircraft using Palomar and require no runway extension.
Accordingly, if the demand exists, history shows that Palomar can double its operations with its existing runway.
Palomar Airport Passengers Could Increase Tenfold Without a Longer Runway
In 2012, Palomar handled less than 100,000 passengers. According to the 2012 FAA CPA environmental assessment, Palomar could easily handle without a runway extension 15 daily round trip flights (30 landings and takeoffs).
Each flight could carry 80 passengers. Hence, total passengers per year would be 876,000. [365 days x 30 daily operations x 80 passengers]. In other words, a change in only 11,000 operations per year [365 x 30] dramatically changes the Palomar passenger count.
Assuming Palomar operations fly from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., 11,000 more annual operations equals about 2 more flights per hour. Accordingly, if the County complies with CEQA and convinces Carlsbad to amend Conditional Use Permit 172 which limits Palomar operations to those of a basic transport general aviation airport, Palomar can handle a million more passengers per year without a runway extension.
An Extended Palomar Airport Runway Would Harm Rather than Help Safety
Before Palomar Airport regularly handles larger planes, the FAA requires that Palomar extend its Runway Safety Area [RSA] to the east of the Palomar runway from 300-feet to 1000-feet. Like a catcher’s mitt, this 1000-foot unpaved RSA is intended to safely catch aircraft that overshoot the runway or crash beyond the runway. Many airports have such unpaved areas.
But few other airports have Palomar’s problem. The proposed 1000-foot RSA is over the Palomar closed landfill that has had continued methane gas emissions from underground decomposing trash and even a major underground fire. To date, the FAA and County have refused to assess the safety of such an RSA impacted by a large aircraft crashing or sliding into this landfill area.
Moreover, the Palomar runway now ends about 1500-feet from a major Carlsbad roadway artery, El Camino Real. A 1000-foot runway extension would result in the runway ending about 2 seconds from an aircraft overshooting the runway and crashing into El Camino traffic.
What is the Bottom Line?
Palomar air traffic and capacity is no JFK Joey. But pound for pound Palomar can match Sonya’s appetite. Considering the above facts, why is the County wasting $800,000 of much needed taxpayer funds to study a Palomar Runway extension?
Could it be that as San Diego International Airport at Lindbergh Field reaches capacity, the County wants to divert more and more flights to Palomar including nighttime cargo operations that usually involve larger planes and longer runways?
In 2011, Peter Drinkwater, the County Director of Airports, said that a longer Palomar Airport runway “would allow the small jets that fly out of Palomar to travel, nonstop, to the Far East… . It would … take some traffic stress off of Lindbergh Field.” [See Tom Fudge, ‘The Problem with Expanding Palomar Airport,” 12/14/11; www.kpbns.org/news/2011/dec14/problem-expanding-palomar-airport/]
Does expanding Palomar to accommodate flights to China really comply with the County’s promise to operate Palomar as a basic transport General Aviation airport as Carlsbad Conditional Use Permit 172 to the County requires?
Next week: Blog 14, Palomar Airport Expansion: What is a Basic Transport General Aviation Airport?