The city agency that operates Los Angeles International Airport is exploring a takeover of an Air Force plant at Palmdale Regional Airport in hopes of heading off a shutdown that could jeopardize plans to restart commercial air service there.
Budget constraints led the Air Force earlier this month to curtail operating hours at the airfield that serves the 5,600-acre Plant 42, said Larry Magnon, an Air Force spokesman. The same constraints could cause the closing of the facility next summer, he said.
The Air Force uses the plant's two runways to fly finished aircraft to other bases. The city's airport agency, which owns a terminal and a parking lot on the site, has offered service from Palmdale intermittently under a lease agreement with the Air Force. Commercial flights there ceased when the last carrier pulled out in 1998, citing lack of interest in its service.
If the Air Force limited or eliminated its airfield services -- such as fire and crash rescue operations, security, and runway inspections and cleanings -- the airport agency could be forced to pick up the slack or risk being unable to provide commercial service, city officials said.
"The Palmdale Airport is very important to us from a regional standpoint," said Lydia Kennard, executive director of the city agency that operates four regional facilities, including Palmdale. "We're working with the Air Force to make sure it remains viable, even should the Air Force pull out."
Mayor James K. Hahn directed Kennard last week to develop contingency plans with the Air Force to address the shortfall.
"The continued availability of the Plant 42 airfield is crucial to our near-term air service marketing efforts and our ultimate ability to provide commercial aviation service to the Antelope Valley," said Hahn in a letter to Kennard.
The Air Force is willing to discuss various options, including an agency takeover of the site, said Magnon, who is a manager at the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center in Ohio. It should know by the end of the year if it will receive the funding it would need to keep the facility open past next July, he said.
The Air Force spends $12 million annually to operate Plant 42, where 7,200 workers employed by defense contractors manufacture many of the military's most sophisticated aircraft. The airport agency's costs in taking over the facility would be less, although it is too early to cite an amount, Kennard said.
Taking over the plant could benefit the agency's plans to offer commercial service in Palmdale in the long term. The agency's lease agreement with the Air Force, which runs until 2017, limits the airport's growth to 25 flights a day unless the agency completes additional environmental studies. This cap presumably would be lifted if the agency took over operations.
The airport agency is drafting a master plan for Palmdale Airport that addresses the effects expansion would have on traffic and the environment and analyzes the demand for service there. The city owns a 17,750-acre parcel next door to Plant 42.
The Air Force also leases portions of the site, which is 62 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, to aerospace companies including Boeing, Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Those companies also use the airfield. Leaseholders said they would be open to talking about various options.
"Our biggest concern is that we don't want any interruption of service," said Dianne Knippel, director of communications for Lockheed Martin.