Concerned about ongoing problems with aircraft noise and a proposal to reintroduce commuter airline service at McClellan-Palomar Airport, Carlsbad city leaders are toying with the idea of purchasing the county-run facility.
The City Council asked its staff last week to investigate the viability of Carlsbad's buying and operating the 235-acre airport, which sits atop the rolling hills lining the city's midsection.
By gaining control of the airport, city officials say they would hope to more tightly regulate aircraft traffic, ease problems with noise and allay concerns about expansion of the facility, which has a single 4,700-foot runway.
"You have to recognize that people in Carlsbad have complained about noise for a long, long time," Councilman John Mamaux said. "When it comes right down to doing something about it, the buck is always passed. We need to see if we can shift some of the decision-making responsibility to Carlsbad, instead of San Diego or Washington."
The proposal to buy the airport comes as the city grapples with pressing fiscal problems. Anticipated revenues for the next few years are down because developer fees have dried up after the approval last year of a strict growth management plan.
Mamaux and other officials, however, say the airport purchase might prove fiscally sound, despite the budget shortfall.
The city could sell bonds and then pay them off with revenue derived from the facility, which serves as home base for several businesses and is a key lifeline for numerous firms in nearby industrial parks. McClellan-Palomar Airport is one of only two county-run airports making a profit, officials say.
In addition, Mamaux said the City Council could consider putting a proposition on the ballot asking residents to raise property taxes to purchase the airport. The staff study will likely be completed in the spring, and until then, a purchase price remains unknown.
Besides buying the property, the city could attempt to repay the federal government the $5 million that was spent to help develop the facility, Mamaux said. Only then would the city be in a position to more fully wrest control of the airport from the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.
"I'd certainly feel good about it if we had complete control of the airport," Mayor Claude (Bud) Lewis said. "I just think it would be a good thing for Carlsbad if we could work it out."
Though several attempts at commercial operations at the facility have failed, two small commuter airlines--Trans World Express and Pacifica Airline--recently applied to begin flights at McClellan-Palomar with propeller-driven aircraft. The airport typically is used by some small corporate jets, but the bulk of the traffic is single-engine private planes.
Lewis and other city officials have expressed concern that the planned commercial flights would increase noise in the neighborhoods. County airport officials, however, say there is little they can do to restrict the commercial flights without risking lawsuits by the airlines or the FAA.
Moreover, county officials contend that much of the noise problem is being caused by private pilots who stray off the routine flight paths, something the commercial airlines are unlikely to do.
Even if Carlsbad can raise the money to purchase the airport, it remains to be seen whether county officials would be willing to sell.
Supervisor John MacDonald could not be reached for comment. Armando Buelna, a staff assistant for MacDonald, said the county has not investigated the proposal. He would not speculate whether such a sale is feasible.
Mayor Lewis, however, promised to press the issue if the city decides it wants control of the airport.
"There may be opposition from the county, but if we can raise money to buy the airport, we'd take our case not only to the supervisors but to our congressman," Lewis said.