CARLSBAD — Area residents got a unique opportunity to walk onto the tarmac and into aircraft without taking a trip at McClellan-Palomar Airport recently when the airport celebrated 50 years.
The county-run airport hosted an anniversary event June 27 in conjunction with the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce.
The Oceanside and Vista chambers were also present, as were the handful of flight schools, flying clubs and organizations such as the Ninety-Nines, Women in Aviation, Angles Depot and Flying Doctors of Mercy.
Liga International Flying Doctors of Mercy has operated out of McClellan-Palomar Airport for several years, taking area physicians to Baja California and Mexico to help those in need.
And while some change is good, like replacing the old terminal, which was built in 1959 when the airport opened, with the 18,000-square-foot new one, which opened last year, some visitors said they missed the ways things used to be.
“We remember the days when this airport was open and we could walk on to the runway,” said Joshua Lazer, who along with his son Benjamin enjoyed sitting in the cabins and cockpits of planes such as the Cirrus SR 22. “We hope they will hold more public events like this.”
According to Bud Copley, with Barnstorming Adventures, which offers biplane rides and air combat flights, the changes were inevitable, but the recent renovations were “less geared toward light aircraft.”
“They’ve changed this airport into more of a jet port,” Copley said, and added that the company recently relocated to Montgomery Field in San Diego.
“They’ve eliminated such things as the transient parking, where airplanes could come in for the night or just a couple hours,” said Travis Daniels, owner of Barnstorming Adventures.
“The unofficial policy is that it is more about jets …… commuter, business jets and charter jets,” Daniels said. “As more jets have come in, they have displaced the lighter general aviation planes. There are still quite a few light planes, but there are less and less.”
Although many in the community may not be aware of the changes, the transition from light private planes to predominately business jets at McClellan-Palomar has not come as a surprise to those in the aviation industry.
“Over the last 10 years it has changed dramatically from a small, single-engine aircraft airport to one of the premiere business jet operations on the West Coast,” Terry Brennan, curator of the San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park.
And as the airport changes, many are celebrating new opportunities.
A new air service to Las Vegas launched July 1 that had many people talking, including one of the pilots for Aaron Aviation.
“There is a great market for the service here, and great demand,” Capt. Aamer Aslam said. Aslam said the flight to Vegas takes only 30 minutes and that Aaron Aviation is working with the MGM hotels.
Pauline Esparza said the charter jets were the most impressive, especially hearing stories about members of the band Pearl Jam and Sen. John McCain flying in.
“It’s so cool,” said Zachary Esparaza, who came to see the planes along with his mom, sister, and younger brother Garrett, who also agreed.
“They’re awesome,” Garrett Esparaza said.
According to Chuck Collins, a member of the Palomar Airport Advisory Committee, as the airport grows, the noise is actually decreasing. “Sometimes there are unexpected, pleasant surprises to be found in the growth of an airport,” he said.