Palomar: Hijacking a Basic Transport General Aviation Airport. Blog #14

Don't Ask, Don't Tell


How do you hi-jack an airport?

If you are the FAA and County, you ignore Carlsbad planning and zoning law.  You convert a “basic transport general aviation” airport  (having no or limited commercial flights) to “a non-hub primary airport” (scheduled air carrier service and more than 10,000 annual passenger boardings).

The FAA-County Palomar development is a modern saga of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Here’s why.

Carlsbad Planning & Zoning.

Palomar Airport operates in Carlsbad.   The County applied for and agreed to abide by Carlsbad Conditional Use Permit [CUP] 172 to operate the Airport.  

CUP Condition 11 says the existing designation of the airport as a General Aviation Basic Transport Airport shall not change unless the CUP is amended.

The CUP implemented Carlsbad community policy as expressed in a 1975 letter from then Mayor Frazee to then County Board of Supervisor Chairman, Dick Brown:

“The City of Carlsbad has consistently gone on record as being unalterably opposed to the potential use of the airport facilities for commercial, commuter, air-carrier activities.  The City is of the opinion that the airport should remain as a general aviation facility … .”  [4/16/75 letter]

What is a Basic Transport General Aviation Airport?

In May 2012, the FAA released its report: “General Aviation Airports; A National Asset.”  Helpful excerpts include:

  • “Most people are familiar with …  primary airports that support scheduled commercial air service, such as … Los Angeles International … .  We [the FAA] also rely on …  airports … to support aeromedical flights, aerial fire fighting, law enforcement, disaster relief, and to provide access to remote communities.  These … facilities are …  referred to as general aviation [GA] airports.”
  • “We [the FAA] divided the [GA] airports into four categories based on existing activity measures such as the number and types of based aircraft … as well as the volume and types of flights.  The four new categories are national, regional, local, and basic as shown in Figure 2.”
  • FAA Figure 2 describes a basic [GA] facility as follows: “Often serving critical aeronautical functions within local and regional markets with moderate to low levels of activity; averaging about 10 propeller-driven aircraft and no jets.” 


How is Palomar Airport Classified?

Responding to my request, the FAA last week advised: “Mr. Bender, McClellan-Palomar in Carlsbad, CA is currently classified as non-hub primary airport (scheduled air carrier service and more than 10,000 annual passenger boardings). … Because they were a primary airport, they were not included in the FAA’s General Aviation Report  … .” 

Palomar statistics show that in 2012, Palomar boarded about 100,000 passengers – about 10 times the limit of a basic transport GA airport.  

Hijacking Palomar

Based on the above facts, it appears that the County is not complying with Carlsbad CUP 172.  How contrite is the County? 

In July 2012, the FAA pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act circulated the Environmental Assessment [EA] necessary before California Pacific Airlines [CPA] may initiate new service at Palomar.   The County failed to provide significant comments on the EA. 

For instance, the County failed to note that the CPA new service could result in another 800,000 annual scheduled Palomar passenger boardings and conflicts with CUP 172.  

Commenting on the 2012 FAA EA in August, Carlsbad noted:

  • “’Longstanding city policy has been to support [Palomar] as a general aviation facility.  Carlsbad General Plan Land Use Element Objective B.1 … is to encourage the continued operation of McClellan-Palomar as a [GA] airport.’  The proposed passenger airline service with planes seating 70 or more passengers could conflict with the City of Carlsbad’s Land Use Element Objective to support [GA].”
  • “The City issued …  for [Palomar] CUP 172.  The CUP limits the use of [Palomar] to a General Aviation Basic Transport Airport. … The proposed commercial airline service of more than 30 passengers exceeds the “basic transport” CUP limitation; therefore an amendment to CUP 172 is required.”

Will the County apply for a CUP amendment?   Or will the public have to wait for a “Lance Armstrong”-like confession?  The clock is ticking.  August, September, October, November, December, January – and counting.

Next Week: Blog 15 Palomar Expansion: Should the Public Leave Palomar Airport Safety to the FAA & County? OR [Possibly] Will the County Counsel Explain the Rules the Palomar Airport Advisory Committee Must Follow?  




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