Palmdale Airport Could Use Some Jets

Once again, Antelope Valley is without an airline. Las Vegas-based Scenic Airlines halted its Palmdale-Vegas flights after little more than a year, saying it was carrying too few passengers to make money.


Jan. 16--PALMDALE -- Once again, Antelope Valley is without an airline. Las Vegas-based Scenic Airlines halted its Palmdale-Vegas flights after little more than a year, saying it was carrying too few passengers to make money.

Los Angeles and Palmdale officials now are hunting for airlines that will bring jetliners to carry Antelope Valley travelers to other major cities.

"We believe the Antelope Valley is a growing and attractive market for airline service," said Paul Haney, spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the operator of the Palmdale Regional Airport. "We intend to redouble our marketing efforts and explore new ways to make the business case for airlines to schedule flights there, particularly regional jet service that would link Palmdale with major airline hubs."

Operated by LAWA, the city of Los Angeles' airports department, the Palmdale airport has a terminal building and land leased at Air Force Plant 42. Under an agreement with the Air Force, Plant 42 can be used by civilian airliners for as many as 50 flights a day, and there are provisions to expand to 400 flights a day.

Palmdale airport supporters -- who include Los Angeles and Palmdale city officials and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich -- want to bring in service that would go to a major hub such as Dallas, Denver, Phoenix or San Francisco. Supporters believe that small jetliners capable of handling about 60 passengers would be a good fit for the Antelope Valley.

Scenic, in comparison, flew to the North Las Vegas airport with 19-seat turboprop aircraft.

"We will continue to work with LAWA and the community to identify operators to work out of the facility," Antonovich said. "We have the people who need the service. Now we need the carriers."

On Tuesday, Antonovich will ask fellow county supervisors to support a resolution urging support of efforts by LAWA to aggressively seek new carriers for Palmdale. The resolution urges an examination of potential incentives, such as buying tickets, providing free transportation between Palmdale and the Van Nuys FlyAway bus center, and subsidizing airport security and cargo improvements.

With LAWA offering breaks in rent, maintenance and operations costs and Los Angeles County assisting with marketing, airlines will be get attractive incentives, said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford.

However, his city will not offer ongoing payments to subsidize an airline's Palmdale service cost, the mayor said.

"I'm not convinced subsidies are the answer. As soon as you quit, the airline is out," Ledford said.

In a 2001 study commissioned by Los Angeles County, the consulting firm Tri-Star Marketing stated Palmdale can support a profitable passenger service linking the Antelope Valley with Western cities such as Dallas, Denver or San Francisco.

The market area from which the Palmdale airport could draw -- about 600,000 people, taking in Santa Clarita as well as the Antelope Valley -- is large enough to produce 1 million to 1.5 million airline passengers a year, the report added. Airports in comparable-size markets average 26 jet flights and 18 commuter flights daily, the report said.

When Scenic began service out of Palmdale in December 2004, it marked the return of airline service to the Antelope Valley after a nearly seven-year absence.

Commuter airlines United Express, America West and SkyWest operated out of the Palmdale Regional Airport terminal in the 1990s -- sometimes two airlines at a time. All pulled out after failing to generate profits with their Palmdale operations. The last airline to leave was United Express, which pulled out in February 1998.

"We all want to see a carrier come up here and make it," Ledford said. "The right carrier will come and it'll be obvious that this market is viable."

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