Saturday, May 28, 2005
Carlsbad airport manager takes off for good Best retires; 13 years at McClellan-Palomar
By Michael Burge
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
CARLSBAD – Floyd Best drove around the airport that he has managed for the past 10 years and pointed out hangars being built for the future wave of corporate and charter jets that find McClellan-Palomar Airport a perfect base of operation. Then he pointed out new houses on a hill within view – and earshot – of the runway.
The two illustrate the biggest challenges of his tenure, which ended yesterday with his retirement: how to usher the airport into a new travel era in the middle of a rapidly developing area.
“You’re looking at the future of this particular airport,” Best said as he gestured toward gleaming jets sitting in a shiny new hangar. “The least expensive airplane in there is about $7 million.”
Palomar is one of only three airports in the county that have a “precision instrument approach,” enabling pilots to land in overcast conditions using electronic instruments when they can’t see the ground.
It is the only commercial airport in the county besides Lindbergh Field, with two commuter air carriers – United Express and America West Express – operating eight flights a day out of the facility, which is owned and operated by the county.
Precision instrument approach makes the airport invaluable to corporations and charter companies that fly jets unimpeded into and out of the airport.
The private jets serve business executives who wish to avoid the headaches of commercial air travel: undergoing security checks, switching planes at busy airports and staying overnight at hotels to fit airline schedules.
Executives prefer to fly directly into smaller airports like Palomar near their final destinations, to reduce travel time and maximize productivity.
The new hangar housing the jets, which was dedicated earlier this month, replaced one about half the size that served smaller planes. It is part of a wave of improvements the 47-year-old airport and private companies are undertaking to keep pace with growing aviation demands.
Best called it part of a “metamorphosis” that will see construction of a new terminal, new restaurant and service buildings, new mechanic shops and parking lots, and eventually a parking structure.
Thirty-four aging hangars will give way to 19 new, larger ones in the process.
“We’ll have a passenger terminal that will have all the amenities that a terminal should have,” Best said.
He said one result of the changes is that small-plane pilots who used Palomar for decades are getting squeezed out.
“They blame the county,” but Palomar’s movement toward private jets and away from small planes is market-driven, he said.
The airport development will include a new area for small planes to tie down, he said.
Best, 61, began working at Palomar 13 years ago after 26 years in the Marine Corps, where he flew F-4 Phantom IIs and Cobra attack helicopters during two tours in Vietnam. His last assignment in the Marines was as head of Camp Pendleton’s air base.
Best, who lives in Escondido, was humble about discussing his military record, which he said included two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
He said he decided to retire from Palomar to devote more time to his family and see his wife through two upcoming surgeries.
During his recent circuit around the airport, several contract workers greeted him by his first name and wished him good luck. He managed eight full-time employees as part of duties of overseeing the airport’s operations, a staff that he said has not increased to keep up with the airport’s growing demands.
He said whoever follows him will face challenges of a growing airport in a growing community.
“When I first got here there was not much residential development,” he said, indicating the hundreds of houses nearby. “As you wind up with more residential development, you wind up with more people who can be irritated by noise and overflight.”
Gail Carroll, who has been active in trying to reduce airport noise, said a milestone was achieved recently when the Palomar Airport Advisory Committee approved a program to encourage pilots to observe voluntary guidelines intended to reduce noise over residences.
“The real heart of the issue is planes don’t fly all the time in the recommended flight pattern and they fly outside the quiet hours” of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., said Carroll, adding it took a long time to get airport officials to acknowledge the community’s concerns.
She said that with the airport committee’s encouragement, more pilots may use takeoff paths that take them away from homes.
From 1997 to 2001, Palomar had the most takeoffs and landings of any single-runway airport in the nation. Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, Lindbergh Field has overtaken Palomar as the nation’s busiest single-runway airport, but the Carlsbad field still ranks high on the list, Best said, with nearly 208,000 takeoffs and landings last year.