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Over 300 North County business people, community leaders, and government officials gathered on July 10 in a large hangar at McClellan-Palomar Airport. The crowd was there for the introduction of California Pacific Airlines, a new airline to be based at the Carlsbad airport.

Local founder and principal investor Ted Vallas said he originated the idea of a Carlsbad-based airline three years ago. He said he missed Pacific Southwest Airlines, a San Diego–based operation known for its friendly service, low fares, and a black “smile” painted on the nose of each plane. (PSA was bought out by U.S. Air in 1987.)

The new airline, to be known as CPAir, will use the slogan, “We put the smile into flying.” The plan is to have a fleet of five Brazilian-made Embraer 170s, which seat 70 with two-across seating (window or aisle only, no middle seats). When I sat in various seats around the plane, it appeared to have a few more inches of leg room than the industry standard.

In May, the first plane was purchased in London and flown to a Kansas City, Missouri, painting facility, where it received its blue wave design. Because of the various shades of blue, the head painter said it was the most difficult logo he's painted on a plane's tail.

The plane had flown for eight years for Lufthansa’s now-defunct Cirrus Airlines. The Embraer 170 is perfect, said CEO Bud Sittig, for landings on shorter runways like Palomar. On July 6, when the plane arrived from Memphis, it slowed down to taxiing speed with plenty of runaway left.

CPAir is now working on finishing FAA certification, which may take up to six months. (The last new American carrier to be certified was Virgin America in 2007.) Once certified, CPAir plans to run daily flights out of Carlsbad to Las Vegas, Oakland, Phoenix, Sacramento, and San Jose with expansion plans into Cabo San Lucas. CPAir also plans to link up with a major airline so nationwide and international travelers can fly directly to Carlsbad, which will be marketed to the traveling public as “San Diego – North.”

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