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Bleak outlook for flights at Palmdale airport

The agency operating the facility says it could take decades for passenger service to return.

March 03, 2009|Dan Weikel

The resumption of passenger service at Palmdale Regional Airport might take years, even decades, if the airline industry cannot recover strongly from the current economic recession, a new report by the Los Angeles airport authority predicts.

"Certain conditions need to return for Palmdale to be deemed viable," said Mike Molina, a spokesman for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates the small facility. "We are certainly not giving up on Palmdale, but the question remains: When will service resume?"

The grim prognosis for the struggling airport was presented Monday to the Board of Airport Commissioners, which sets policy for Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that also operates Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario International Airport and Van Nuys Airport.

Palmdale airport was closed in February, two months after United Airlines canceled its four daily flights to San Francisco. During 18 months of operations, the carrier's planes were less than a third full, well below the anticipated level of 50%.

United was the eighth airline to come and go from Palmdale since the early 1970s, when the Los Angeles airport department began buying 17,500 acres of vacant land for an intercontinental jet port that was never built.

The 36-page report blamed the airport's lack of success on four factors: long drives for travelers who don't live in Palmdale and Lancaster; a limited flight schedule compared with competing airports; an inability to attract military and government travelers from Air Force installations and aerospace firms in the region; and one of the worst economic downturns in the history of the airline industry.

Since United's departure, Palmdale city officials have been trying to assume primary responsibility for attracting permanent air service to the facility. They say that airfares were too high and that Los Angeles officials failed to develop a large untapped market of travelers in the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

"We believe there may be a market out there," Palmdale Mayor James Ledford said. "We hope that Los Angeles World Airports would support us in our effort to find one."

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dan.weikel@latimes.com

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