CARLSBAD – On November 1, California Pacific Airlines (4A) took off from McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad (CLD) en route to San Jose (SJC), the capital of Silicon Valley.

McClellan-Palomar Airport’s modern 18,000 sq ft terminal building opened in 2009. Photo: Author

Ninety-seven year old San Diego area millionaire Ted Vallas, who made his riches as a golf course developer, founded the initial iteration of California Pacific in 2009.  

Vallas identified North San Diego County as an opportunity for an airline operating from CLD. With a market population of 3 million, it is an untapped market.

The ticket counter area at McClellan-Palomar Airport. Photo: Author

According to published reports, Vallas invested $15 million of his own money and found local investors to start the airline.  He wanted a local airline serving the local community.

In 2012, a leased Embraer 170 (registration N760CP) arrived in CLD in full California Pacific colors as part of the airline certification process.

Unfortunately, California Pacific encountered various challenges with both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and County of San Diego Airports.  Employees were furloughed and the E-Jet was returned to lessor.

California Pacific ticket counter at McClellan-Palomar Airport awaits for its first passengers. Photo: Author

Not willing to give up easily, in August 2018, Vallas acquired an existing FAA Part 121 certified airline, Atlanta-based Aerodynamics Inc (ADI), and rebranded it to California Pacific Airlines.

ADI operates four 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145s on charter and Essential Air Service between Denver, Colorado (DEN) and two cities in South Dakota: Pierre (PIR) and Watertown (ATY).

McClellan-Palomar Airport’s sole gate hold room. Photo: Author

During the acquisition announcement, Vallas was optimistic: “It’s a turn-key operation…we could fly today if we wanted to.” But it was not meant to be.

County of San Diego pushed back citing incomplete paperwork and initial service date slipped to November 1, 2018.  

ERJ-145 N286SK is painted in the full California Pacific livery.  N259JQ only has small titles on the engines (not shown). Photo: California Pacific

The struggle for takeoff continued through inaugural day.  In late October, ADI’s ERJ-145LR N286SK, painted in full California Pacific Airlines colors, was damaged by a vehicle at Watertown and it is currently being repaired. Aircraft N259JQ got pressed into service.

That aircraft had a maintenance issue in DEN which was not resolved until midday on November 1.  As a result, Flight 4A 101, the inaugural flight scheduled to depart at 7:00 am from CLD to SJC was cancelled.

Instead, flight 4A 107, the 6:00 pm departure to SJC had to honor of being the first California Pacific flight to depart from McClellan-Palomar.

In addition to SJC, California Pacific also serves Reno (RNO); Las Vegas (LAS) and Phoenix-Mesa (AZA) will follow on November 15th.  

Photo: California Pacific

Airline executives identified business flyers in the tech sector flying to SJC and AZA as a top priority.  Fares are structured with emphasis on last-minute or short-lead bookings.

Non-refundable, one-way fare from CLD to SJC booked at four days out was $99 compared with $134 on Southwest Airlines departing from San Diego.  

Same day booking was $129 one-way on California Pacific compared with $174 on Southwest.

Despite the hiccup experienced on service start, there are many reasons why California Pacific should succeed given the tremendous potential in North San Diego County.  

The airlines’ focus on the time-sensitive business market with favourable last-minute fares tip the scale to California Pacific’s favor. A crucial missing component for successful business travel, however, is frequency.

California Pacific currently serves SJC with only two flights each day. Although well-timed in for morning and evening business, given the airlines limited resources, it may be a while before they can match Southwest’s frequency.  

For the moment, McClellan-Palomar Airport’s convenient location, ease of access, and short security wait times will hopefully be reasons enough to attract travelers.

In short order, local residents will surely discover the gem of the airline that they can proudly call their own.