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Valley Perspective

Incentives to Bring Airlines to Palmdale Would Help Relieve Congestion

March 11, 2001|GEORGE RUNNER | Assemblyman George Runner (R-Lancaster) represents Lancaster, Palmdale and Santa Clarita

You don't have to be a Mileage Plus member or have the most SkyMiles to know that LAX has crowding issues. If you've ever traveled in or out of the Los Angeles International Airport, particularly around the Christmas or Thanksgiving holidays, chances are you faced long lines, corridors filled with patiently, or not-so-patiently, waiting passengers or perhaps delayed or canceled flights.

Designed in the 1960s to transport 40 million passengers annually, LAX today serves 64 million travelers a year. Worse, demand will likely increase to 98 million passengers yearly by 2015 if something isn't done soon.

Although this information is not exactly breaking news, it has been the starting point for a discussion about a solution. Much of the recent discussion has been about expansion, which has sparked intense debate across the region.

Whether you oppose or support the expansion of what is already the fourth busiest airport in the world, there needs to be serious talk about how to better utilize existing smaller airports such as the Palmdale Regional Airport.

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Last October, Los Angeles World Airports, which owns and operates several airports in the region, including LAX and Palmdale, completed a study on the feasibility and best means of further developing and marketing Palmdale Regional to serve the growing needs of the Los Angeles region. The study determined that Palmdale Regional has the capability of serving as many as 4 million passengers by 2010. To put this in perspective, Burbank Airport serves 5 million passengers a year and is considered a vital part of the Southern California airport system.

Although the study reaffirmed the possibilities of Palmdale's airport, it also touched on the fact that carriers need a good reason to open up their gates in Palmdale. In other words, they need incentives that will attract them to the northern part of the region.

Assembly Bill 243 is one persuasion tool. I recently introduced this bill to provide tax breaks for aircraft companies that provide service to airports in enterprise zones, such as Palmdale Regional. Under AB 243, airlines doing business at airports within an enterprise zone would be exempt from paying sales tax on their jet fuel. Sales of fuel and petroleum products to air, water and rail common carriers at one time were exempt from sales tax. However, these exemptions were repealed in 1991 along with other sales tax exemptions, due to state budget constraints.

Although the tax exemptions for fuel and petroleum products sold to water common carriers were reinstated in 1992 after concerns arose that the tax resulted in job losses and a significant decline in the number of ships choosing to fuel in California, the law continues to require taxes on fuel and petroleum products for domestic flights on common air carriers.

After consecutive budget surpluses, it seems ludicrous to maintain additional taxes that were imposed during the last recession. Tax incentives established to bring commercial airlines to Palmdale would not only relieve the congestion problems of LAX, but also some of the pressure on Burbank Airport to expand.

Additionally, Van Nuys Airport, which services much of the region's general aviation, would no longer have cause to worry about being forced to encroach upon the community as my proposed tax breaks would also apply to Fox Field, a county-owned general aviation airport in Lancaster.

While the argument continues about whether to expand or reconfigure LAX, many local officials agree that any plan to accommodate the growing demands of air travel must include expansion plans of the region's smaller, less utilized airports.

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With Palmdale only a few miles north of the Los Angeles area, all we need to do is provide the proper marketing tools and financial incentives so that carriers could easily serve passengers in the regional hub of the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. With the support of the community as well as my colleagues in the Legislature, perhaps we will soon be able to lure meaningful commercial airlines to Palmdale, thereby solving a portion of an otherwise impending crisis.

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