Calif.'s Palmdale Regional Airport Needs a New Airline

Dec. 22--PALMDALE -- Palmdale Regional Airport is again facing the prospect of being without an airline after Scenic Airlines filed a notice with the federal government that it intends to pull out in March.

Scenic filed a notice with the U.S. Department of Transportation indicating it will leave the market March 13. The airline has operated out of Palmdale since Dec. 29, 2004.

"We are disappointed that Scenic Airlines has chosen to file a notice of intent to terminate service at Palmdale Regional Airport," said Paul Haney, spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates the Palmdale airport. The airline filed its request Dec. 13, and the notice was posted Tuesday. "We're hopeful they will reconsider and stay."

Haney said LAWA officials were disappointed but not discouraged with the Scenic decision. Regardless, LAWA intends to continue to market Palmdale with an eye toward regional jet service that would link the Antelope Valley with major airline hubs, such as Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco.

There are 60-passenger regional jets that would be a good fit for the Antelope Valley market, Haney said.

"We think they would be ideal for Palmdale," Haney said.

The notice of intent did not state a reason for terminating service, but the airline for months has been struggling to get passengers. In August, the city of Palmdale bought $20,000 worth of tickets after airline officials told them at that time they were looking to pull out in October if passenger loads didn't increase.

Palmdale gave away the tickets in drawings at summer park concerts.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Dispenza said the pullout announcement was not a surprise and that he had been disappointed with Scenic's marketing efforts.

"There are many things you have to do when you open a business and one of them is letting people know you are there," Dispenza said. "We need an airline to come in, be service-oriented, be marketing-oriented, and be part of the community. I'm sorry to see them go, but they were never really here to begin with."

Dispenza said he believes the Palmdale market is viable, but that it might require an improvement in the overall health of the airline industry before someone can make a real go of it.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. However, in an interview Friday, Ledford expressed concerns about Scenic's viability in Palmdale, but was confident that the fortunes of that airline would not derail efforts to attract other carriers.

"I am very optimistic about additional service," Ledford said. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say we will get another carrier next year."

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

Scenic had long operated sightseeing flights but began to diversify its operations after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to include regional air service, starting with flights in and out of Ely, Nev., and Merced, Calif.

Those routes are subsidized by the federal government under a program aimed at restoring air service to communities that lost it as the result of airline deregulation.

Scenic's Palmdale service is not subsidized by the federal government, but Los Angeles World Airports offered an incentive package estimated at $776,000 per year to help the airline gain a foothold.

Commuter airlines United Express, America West and SkyWest operated out of the Palmdale Regional Airport terminal at Plant 42 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.

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