CARLSBAD — After years of planning and months of construction, the new terminal at McClellan-Palomar Airport is now open for business.
The sleek, modern 18,000-square-foot terminal contains a new baggage claim area, a lobby area with wood rocking chairs and soon, a passenger lounge, overlooking the aircraft loading area. Rental car services are also offered inside.
A few yards away, an elevator, which is still under construction, will provide access to those parking in one of three new long-term parking areas below, which are designed to accommodate a total of 700 cars.
Next door to the new terminal, a new 2,481-square-foot restaurant will soon open, taking the place of the old one, which closed when construction began.
The grand opening for the new terminal is scheduled for January, said airport officials; however, operations within the new facility officially began last week.
Arriving at the airport, many passengers have been surprised to find the new terminal open for business, despite surrounding construction still being under way.
“This is very nice,” Judy Crider said of the new facility.
Crider was flying to Los Angeles to connect flights to return home to Denver, and said she has been to McClellan Airport before, when she came out to visit her kids in nearby Oceanside, and finds the small airport “convenient.”
“It is quick and easy … without the lines,” she said.
However, some passengers said the operations at this time are still a bit unorganized.
“As you first pull up, it would be helpful to have signs,” Jasmine Smith said. Smith was flying with her husband to Los Angeles to connect flights to Hawaii.
Bryan Smith of Fallbrook said without signs at the terminal it was a bit “confusing” trying to find the parking.
The Smiths said they have been to the airport in the past and used valet to park.
Officials with the airport said work will continue for a couple more months, but the new terminal had to open in order for the old one to close, and be torn down.
Passenger loading and unloading from commercial flights will take place where the old terminal now stands.
The county-run airport, located in Carlsbad, has been a central fixture in the city since 1958.
For years there has been talk of extending the airport runway to accommodate larger aircraft, but according to Mayor Pro Tem Ann Kulchin, no application has yet been filed. If and when that does happen, it would need voter approval, she said.
Airport officials have said they hope to attract more aircraft, and although traffic has increased in recent years, the runway cannot accommodate larger commercial jets.
Right now, 60 percent of aircraft flying in and out of the airport is small, single-engine, private aircraft, Airport Manager Willie Vasquez said. Thirty-five percent is corporate or charter aircraft and only 5 percent is commercial.
Only two commercial airlines offer flights from McClellan-Palomar — United Express, and the charter service Vision Airlines.
Total cost of renovations, scheduled to be completed early next year, is close to $26 million.