New Wings for McClellan-Palomar Airport

If you have ever flown in or out of Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport, you know it is quite a view from the sky. The glimmering Pacific, rolling hills, lagoons and The Flower Fields all provide aerial eye candy. And now, on its 50th anniversary with a new, state-of the art, ecologically minded terminal and airport-wide revisions complete, the view from the ground is just as spectacular.

In 1957, San Diego County chose Carlsbad as the spot to replace Del Mar’s airport. Two years later McClellan-Palomar Airport was up and running. Over the next decade, modern additions were made to the airport including a terminal building, an expanded runway, an instrument landin g system, approach lights and an FAA control tower. In the early 1990s, commercial airlines began servicing airport customers with flights to Los Angeles. The airport has been running business as usual until the need arose to complement Carlsbad’s local economy and bring the airport into updated standards.
In 2006, the management staff at the airport began bi-weekly meetings to discuss the project. Goals included organizing and modernizing existing facilities, improving safety for passengers, enhancing the customer’s experience, working within environmental and financial restraints and incorporating sustainable design practices. “We wanted it to have the Carlsbad feeling so we went with a ‘land, sea and air’ theme,” says Willie Vasquez, airport manager, in regards to the airport terminal. After working on the Conceptual Terminal Plan with Wadell Engineering Corporation and Gensler & Associates, ground was broken in 2007 to begin construction that would combine the airline terminal with security screening, a new restaurant, a customs facility for private, international flights and implement a design plan that would capture the best of Carlsbad.
When construction began on the new terminal, the idea to create a green building was the central focus. The terminal was built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, which is a green building rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council. Recycled materials were used in construction including walls made of rich oak that came from an old barn in northern California. The decking is made from recycled plastics and an energy-saving feature that fits with the “land, sea and air” theme is a terminal building where all windows and doors open up. Vasquez comments, “We wanted to take advantage of our climate and incorporate that into energy-saving features.” For security purposes, the boarding area is completely enclosed but does have an outdoor deck for those hoping to soak in some Carlsbad sunshine before boarding. Security and passenger safety go hand-in-hand, so the airport security system was upgraded with approximately 50 cameras placed throughout the entire airport that monitor the area 24 hours a day. All carpeting is completely recycled and the landscaping was created using native and drought-resistant plants. Technology also plays a role in keeping green with a central environmental computer that regulates lights and air temperatures throughout the airport.
Another way to incorporate the “land, sea, and air” theme meant utilizing inspiration from the most obvious landmark in Carlsbad—the gorgeou s coastline. Approaching the terminal is like walking up on to a beach. The canopies are similar to beach umbrellas lined up in the summer sun and the concrete was poured in wavy lines and is embellished with shells. And if you are arriving on a flight, a bubbling water feature in the outdoor baggage claim area soothes your travel woes and welcomes you to the beauty of Carlsbad. Passengers have noticed the facelift at the airport. Frequent business traveler Todd Jurena of Oceanside comments, “The airport makeover is great. It looks amazing and I love the easy access from North County. There is quick check-in without long security lines, but best is the personable, small-town feeling.”
The terminal is not the only place that received a makeover. The North Ramp is the new home for small, general aviation types of aircraft. This new parking spot can house more than 130 planes and also follows along the terminal’s green standards. An “underground detention vault” collects waste water from over half of the airport and is designed to collect sediments, trash, oil, grease and heavy metals that pollute the water. The treated water then flows to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
The FBOs (fixed base operators) at M cClellan-Palomar have also spruced up their facilities. FBOs provide the essential services to the airport such as pilot services, fuel, aircraft maintenance, aircraft housing for local businesses and passenger services such as hotel, ground transportation and food. They also provide chartered trips and flight lessons. They are privately run and lease the land from the county. “McClellan-Palomar airport has four FBOs and business travel makes up a big part of the customer base,” Vasquez says. “We also have golf stars, tennis stars and professional surfers passing through for the variety of sporting events in our area.”
So why did the airport really need this head-to-toe reconstruction and who paid the bill? The big answer is that Carlsbad’s corporate business area surrounding the airport grew rapidly and the need to keep up with that business meant increasing passenger safety and increasing the amenities to keep this business (and the money it pumps into our economy) right here in Carlsbad. Vasquez says, “The facilities were old and outdated. The changing economy of North County drove the need to revamp.” The administrative offices and terminal construction were paid for with county and federal money while the FBOs refurbishing came from their own budget as part of the land lease agreement with the county.
On the 50th anniversary, the McClellan-Palomar Airport celebrates its history as North County’s premier airport and looks to the future as a modern point of pride for Carlsbad. For more information on the airport or flight schedules, visit
Airport Numbers, Stats and Figures 1959 – Open for business 7 – Flights a day United Express offers to Los Angeles 40,000 – Passengers who flew to Los Angeles in 2008 194,000 – Total Operations for 2008 (take offs, landings) 341 – Total based aircraft 1,840 – Total jobs associated with McClellan-Palomar Airport $251 Million – Revenues $18.4 million – State and local tax income. (Editor’s Note: airports Are Assets – they all bring tax money to the municipality and to the state).
For more information on the airport go to

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