Lured by $4 Million, Delta and United Compete to Serve Palmdale

Two major airlines are vying to add Palmdale to their flight schedules, a change in fortune for the regional airport and an important step toward dispersing air traffic away from Los Angeles International Airport.

Delta and United airlines submitted proposals late Friday for new air service from Palmdale, most likely to one of their West Coast hubs.

Airport officials plan to unseal the proposals next week and could not comment on the details Friday evening.

Delta operates a hub in Salt Lake City, and United has hubs in San Francisco and Denver.

Palmdale has some powerful backers in its corner, and they dangled more than $4 million in cash and benefits to entice airlines to take a gamble there.

They required nothing less in return than 50-seat regional jets flying twice a day from Palmdale's airport to a larger city.

An evaluation committee will begin going through the two proposals next week, and should make its selection by February, said Paul Haney, deputy executive director of airports and security for Los Angeles World Airports.

The agency operates both LAX and Palmdale's airport.

If all goes as planned, Palmdale could have major air service for the first time in years in time for the summer travel season.

Palmdale's airport is supposed to play a starring role in an ambitious effort to push air traffic away from the congested terminals of LAX and toward the smaller airports in the suburbs.

Regional planners think Palmdale could one day handle at least 12.8 million travelers a year, making it about the size of Oakland International Airport.

But expectations have always outstripped reality at the Palmdale airport, surrounded by acres and acres of high-desert scrub in the Antelope Valley.

Planners in the 1960s dreamed of Palmdale becoming an international jetport that would dwarf LAX, but today, it's just an empty terminal building rising from an empty expanse of parking-lot asphalt.

Delta and United have flown into Palmdale before, but both canceled their service in the late 1980s. The last commercial airline to make a run at Palmdale, a small company flying turboprop airplanes, walked away in late 2005 after losing money for a year.

The airport's supporters, organized as the Wheels Up Palmdale coalition, still see great promise there -- especially with the breakneck growth of the surrounding Antelope Valley.

They have $4.6 million saying Palmdale's airport can support regular air service.

The money will help shield whichever airline moves into Palmdale from taking a loss on the deal for up to three years. It also will cover the rent and pay for a free blitz of advertising and marketing.

The airport even has a new name, to help market it to travelers who might not otherwise see it on the map: LA/Palmdale Regional.

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