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Officials seek to boost regional airports

November 18, 2008|Dan Weikel | Weikel is a Times staff writer.

Reacting to United Airlines' decision to pull out of the L.A./Palmdale Regional Airport in December, officials for Los Angeles World Airports on Monday reiterated their support for spreading some of the future growth in air travel to other airports in the region instead of busy LAX.

L.A. airport officials told the Board of Airport Commissioners that they would create an Office of Regionalism, answerable to agency director Gina Marie Lindsey, and continue marketing efforts to encourage airlines to expand flights at other airports, such as L.A/Ontario International, John Wayne in Orange County and Bob Hope in Burbank.

They also said they would support improvements to ground transportation serving those airports, including bus routes, commuter rail lines and high-speed trains, such as the longstanding proposal to build a maglev train to Ontario International.

Los Angeles World Airports owns and operates Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario International Airport, Van Nuys Airport and L.A./Palmdale Regional Airport, which has been struggling for years to retain airline service. Since 1971, eight carriers have come and gone from Palmdale.

In September, United announced that it would discontinue its four flights a day from Palmdale to San Francisco starting Dec. 7. Flights have been less than a third full since operations started in June 2007.

Ontario International, which has been a showcase of regionalism for the airport agency, is suffering some of the worst passenger declines in the nation for an airport its size due to the economic recession and a major downturn in the airline industry.

This fall, airlines are expected to cut available seats at Ontario by roughly a third, a trend that is expected to continue into next year.

The airport agency's action coincides with a recent announcement by the city of Palmdale that it would assume the leases for Palmdale airport facilities and take primary responsibility for attracting passenger service to the airport. Los Angeles World Airports has leased the land for Palmdale's terminal, parking lot and taxiways from the U.S. Air Force and has had an agreement to use the Air Force runway for commercial flights.

Airport Commissioner Walter Zifkin cautioned that the policy to regionalize air travel needs to be balanced to allow for growth at LAX as well as the regional airports.

LAX served about 62 million passengers last year, but is forecast to handle less than 55 million next year. The airport's unofficial cap is 78.5 million passengers.

"I want to make sure that LAX is supported," he said. "It's a major economic engine for the region and needs to be preserved."

Zifkin also defended the airport agency, saying that recent complaints from L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Palmdale officials that the agency had not done enough to promote regionalism are misplaced. "We have made every effort to get air service at Palmdale, but it just hasn't happened," he said.

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dan.weikel@latimes.com

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