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Palmdale City Council moves to develop shuttered airport

April 03, 2009|Dan Weikel

Asserting more control over the effort to attract airline service to the Antelope Valley, the Palmdale City Council has authorized the creation of an aviation department and commission to oversee development of the now-closed Palmdale Regional Airport.

The council's action Wednesday night will greatly reduce the role played by Los Angeles World Airports, which shuttered the commercial airport and removed its staff in February after decades of frustration trying to provide passenger service.

"This is a necessary step for us to take," said Palmdale Mayor James Ledford. "We are now going to make the decisions that affect our airport rather than going to an entity that is 60 miles away."

Eight airlines have come and gone from the facility since the early 1970s -- the latest being United, which canceled its four daily flights to San Francisco on Dec. 6 after almost 18 months of operation. The carrier's planes were less than a third full, well below the anticipated level of 50%.

Los Angeles World Airports officials contend that it might take years, if not decades, before the travel market is strong enough in the Antelope Valley to support an airline -- a position that Palmdale officials dispute. They say that airfares were too high, the destinations too few and that Los Angeles officials failed to develop a large untapped market of travelers in the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

The City Council voted unanimously to set up the Palmdale Airport Division, which will be headed by City Manager Steve Williams. Council members will serve as commissioners to set policy for the new department.

Los Angeles World Airports has had primary responsibility for developing Palmdale Regional Airport, but the severe downturn in the airline industry has prompted its commission to concentrate the department's efforts on Los Angeles International Airport, where a multibillion-dollar modernization is planned.

LAX has lost about 8 million annual passengers since 2000, a decline that has been aggravated by the current recession.

The agency's other airports, Ontario International and Van Nuys, a general aviation facility, also face serious economic challenges caused by plunging passenger volumes and flight operations.

Ledford said the city now plans to seek re-certification of Palmdale as a commercial airport from the Federal Aviation Administration and to begin searching for an air carrier to resume passenger service.

Los Angeles World Airports surrendered the certification to the FAA earlier this year.

The mayor said the city also is making progress toward assuming U.S. Air Force leases that have been held by Los Angeles World Airports for decades.

Palmdale's parking lot, terminal and some of its ramp areas sit on land owned by Air Force Plant 42, an aerospace facility.

City officials said the Air Force has notified Los Angeles that it wants to terminate its leases with the airport agency, a process that can take 24 months.

"Getting an airline is inevitable," Ledford said.

"We've just got to find the right carriers and the right destinations at the right price. We are serious about controlling our own destiny."

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dan.weikel @latimes.com

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