APPROVES AGREEMENT TO
PALMDALE REGIONAL AIRPORT
By Jennifer Oldham, Times Staff Writer
December 27, 2002
Thirty-one years after hundreds of people crowded into the Palmdale Airport terminal to watch Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty dedicate the facility, a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and secured with a heavy brass padlock guards the entrance.
Despite the lofty visions on that muggy June dedication day of Palmdale as a bustling regional airfield, a notion revived recently by Mayor James K. Hahn, that was the last time the building would host so many patrons at once.
These days, four years after Palmdale's last flight, tumbleweeds bounce along the cracked asphalt ramp. A coyote lopes down the deserted access road past rusting farm machinery. An inch of dust lines empty ticket counters.
The airport's lone employee, Brandon Eaton, says many people have forgotten the facility exists.
"Even people who live up here don't realize that there's a terminal tucked away down here," the superintendent of operations said during a recent tour. "I'm standing here today with a facility capable of handling 300,000 people. I have a parking lot with 360 spaces."
Los Angeles officials are acutely aware of the empty airport's presence, and hope to base commercial air service there again soon. Hahn has made the aging facility a centerpiece for his plan to redistribute air traffic around Southern California.
Sharing the load among the region's six airports is crucial if Hahn is to enforce a cap of 78 million passengers at Los Angeles International Airport. He has proposed the cap as part of his $9.6-billion modernization proposal there.
To meet the limit, the mayor must persuade airlines to move commuter service to airports such as Palmdale, which could accommodate as many as 4 million travelers by 2025, according a forecast by the Southern California Assn. of Governments.
That figure compares with the 48,500 travelers who flew into or out of Palmdale in its peak year, 1990. The number dwindled to fewer than 19,400 -- an average of 53 a day -- by 1997. The last carrier pulled out in 1998, citing lack of interest in its service.
Serious planning to return service to Palmdale began under Mayor Richard Riordan, when Palmdale officials and the Los Angeles agency that operates the airport hired a consultant to study its potential. The study found that the region could support air service at Palmdale and officials were poised to present the findings to several airlines -- on Sept. 10, 2001.
Given Hahn's goal, officials are again urging carriers to provide service at Palmdale. They have approached a few since August, said Bob Haueter, a senior deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes the airport.
"The timing really couldn't be better," Haueter said. "Some airlines expressed an interest in providing service, even after 9/11. We're going to follow up with those."
Among the hurdles that must be overcome to bring this dusty desert outpost to life is the reluctance of the airlines, still reeling from a poor economy and the terrorist attacks, to expand service to markets near major airports.
In addition, the airport's growth is limited by a lease agreement with the Air Force, which owns the runways, and by various environmental issues that could stymie expansion plans. Also, it's difficult get there from Los Angeles.
But Palmdale officials aren't discouraged. They say the community has grown more affluent, and its educated, well-heeled population could support flights to communities as far flung as Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Sacramento and San Francisco.
"We're not trying to replace LAX," said David Meyers, president of the Greater Valley Economic Alliance, a nonprofit promotional group. "There are very few areas in the country like this that don't have an airport. Markets similar in size to ours supported airline service with far fewer people with less buying power and businesses."
About 625,000 residents live in the airport's "catchment area," which Meyers said includes parts of the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys and Inyo and San Bernardino counties. Several areas with strong regional airports are smaller, such as Colorado Springs, Colo., with 509,000 residents, whose airport offers 51 daily flights, and Boise, Idaho, with 415,000 people, where 79 flights take off each day from Boise Airport.
But both Colorado Springs and Boise are hundreds of miles from the nearest major international airport. Palmdale is about 50 miles from Burbank Airport and 66 miles from LAX, a distance that some carriers consider too short to justify new routes.
"Los Angeles World Airports came to give us a presentation ... and we agreed to listen," said Janice Monahan, a spokeswoman for America West. "But nothing came of it."
Despite this setback, Eaton, Palmdale Airport's superintendent of operations, remains optimistic. He says the existing terminal is a perfect home for 70-seat regional jets favored by the airlines for shorter routes. Many airlines have turned to these planes to cut excess capacity from the system.
Horizon Airlines disagrees -- at least for now. The carrier has received dozens of requests from facilities such as Palmdale to start service with its regional jets, forcing it to set priorities for where it will go first. Palmdale isn't on that list, said Dan Russo, Horizon's director of marketing.
"We'll be taking delivery of more jets between now and 2005 and, as we get closer to that, we will be making decisions on how to deploy those," Russo said.
To entice carriers, the Los Angeles agency that operates Palmdale is discussing incentives, including free rent and pro bono marketing of flights. The city of Palmdale has also considered what's known as a "travel bank" to attract air service.
Five communities, from Pensacola, Fla., to Eugene, Ore., have raised $8.6 million since 1999, using such banks to attract carriers to smaller airports. A travel bank is formed when businesses put a percentage of their travel budgets into an escrow account and withdraw from the account for employee travel on a certain airline.
In 2000, Stockton persuaded America West to provide two daily flights to Phoenix from its airport after several dozen companies and individuals raised $800,000 for prepaid travel. Like Palmdale, the airport had lacked commercial service for five years, requiring residents to drive at least an hour to another airport.
Travel banks are "even more viable, with economic problems and after 9/11," said Mike Boggs, manager of airport business services for Mead & Hunt Inc. He said they are designed to do two things: influence airline decisions about service by "giving a community an edge and make a carrier successful for the long term in a market."
Limit of 25 Flights a Day
Even if airlines decide to offer service from Palmdale, an agreement between the Los Angeles airport agency and the Air Force allows only 25 flights a day. The agency leases the terminal, runways and parking lot from the Air Force. It owns a huge tract adjacent to the military installation where it hopes to expand eventually.
The Air Force lease, which will run until 2017, will allow the airport agency to increase operations at the existing terminal to 200 flights per day if it completes additional environmental studies.
The airport agency is drafting a master plan for Palmdale Airport that will look at how an expansion would affect the desert environment, research its effects on freeway traffic and air pollution and analyze the demand for passenger and cargo service.
Several endangered species may live among the brush that covers the site, including the Mojave ground squirrel, the western burrowing owl, the desert tortoise and native plants, said Scott Harris, an associate wildlife biologist at the California Department of Fish and Game. Draft changes to the Los Angeles County General Plan designate 35% of the airport site as an environmentally sensitive area.
If the airport agency decided to expand the existing terminal, or to build a new facility, it would be required to search for the endangered species and complete detailed biological reports. Environmental issues aside, the agency's lease with the Air Force bars it from starting construction soon on the 17,750-acre site owned by the Los Angeles airport agency and adjacent to the military property.
"If they wanted to develop the land next door for an airport they can't, according to the joint-use agreement, until they get to a three-month average of 200 operations a day," said Lt. Col. Celeo Wright, commander at the facility, Air Force Plant 42.
Airport supporters say they are also concerned that poor highway access could hamper the facility's growth.
"A lot of people use the 14 Freeway to commute to and from the Los Angeles Basin," said James Ledford, Palmdale's mayor. "That could be a detriment to the airport if we can't give passengers assurance they can get up here on time to meet a flight. This is something that needs to be overcome today."
Regional officials suggest improved rail service and a dedicated beltway from Los Angeles to Palmdale, similar to a highway complex that links Dulles International Airport with Washington, D.C. Both of these ventures would be likely to cost millions and are not currently included in transportation planning for the area.
The Los Angeles Airport Commission recently granted a right of way that would allow the California Department of Transportation to build a 5.3-mile expressway to connect Palmdale Airport with the Antelope Valley Freeway. Caltrans hopes to complete the $165-million, six-lane expressway by 2010. The agency still needs $140 million.
County planners say access and other infrastructure issues are important, but they're not crucial to starting service at the existing terminal.
"If you're going to make that airport grow and go to a regionalization approach, you will have to do more up there, as far as infrastructure and access," said Haueter, the deputy to County Supervisor Antonovich. "But those things don't stop us from beginning right away to provide some service."
APPROVES AGREEMENT TO
PALMDALE REGIONAL AIRPORT
(Los Angeles, CA - October 19, 1999) The Los Angeles Board of
today authorized a Cooperation Agreement among the cities of Los Angeles and Palmdale,
and Palmdale's Community Redevelopment Agency to develop and aggressively market
Palmdale Regional Airport (PMD). This follows an announcement made October 1 by Los
Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Palmdale Mayor James Ledford.
The primary purpose of the Cooperation Agreement is to
accelerate planning of PMD as part
of the regional aviation system, in conjunction with the preparation of the Master Plan at Los
Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the continued development of Ontario International
Airport (ONT). Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) owns and operates three commercial
airports at LAX, ONT, and PMD.
"This agreement is the result of the unprecedented cooperation
perseverance of many of
us who believe the challenges of Palmdale Regional Airport can and will be met," said John J.
Agoglia, president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners. "This kind of
cooperation and innovation is the right approach to resolving future demand for air
Lydia H. Kennard, LAWA interim executive director, said, "With
City of Palmdale, we are
putting a new piece of the regional transportation solution into place. Palmdale Airport can
begin to take its rightful place in a regional aviation system that continues to fuel tremendous
economic growth and vitality in Southern California."
The agreement is part of LAWA's commitment to finding regional
to the Southland's
increasing air transportation needs. Last year, LAWA completed a $270-million expansion of
ONT, which would allow the airport to grow from the current 6.5 million passengers annually
to 10 million. LAWA has completed an international marketing study - which is currently being
implemented - and a domestic marketing program is underway to increase service at ONT.
LAWA also announced its commitment to continue expanding ONT in the future to 15 to 20
million annual passengers.
Key elements of the Cooperation Agreement include:
Developing plans for new and larger
passenger and cargo facilities adjacent to existing
facilities, including a cargo ramp scheduled for completion by the end of 2000
Aggressively pursuing a high-speed rail
Palmdale from major population areas in
Providing right-of-way for construction of
Route 138 bypass, if federal law allows.
About $28 million has already been allocated from federal, state, and local funding
sources. This easement, which the City of Los Angeles intends to grant to the
California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), is valued at more than $12 million.
Vigorously supporting construction of highway improvements, including a Route 138
bypass from Highway 14 to Palmdale Airport and continuation of the new Route 138
from Palmdale to Victorville in San Bernardino County
Marketing airport-adjacent facilities to
industry to promote continued
economic and population growth in the Antelope Valley and increase demand for airport
Marketing existing terminal facilities at
PMD (U.S. Air Force Plant No. 42) to commercial
air carriers, commuter airlines, air cargo carriers, and aviation maintenance operators
The City of Los Angeles has a long working partnership with
of Palmdale dating back
to 1967, when the two cities entered into a lease of 54 acres at U.S. Air Force Plant No. 42 for
a municipal air terminal to service commercial airline flights. In 1985, the lease was assigned
to Los Angeles City by Palmdale, and consented to by the U.S. Air Force. In 1989, Los
Angeles and the Air Force entered into a Joint Use Agreement, which extended the term of
the lease to October 31, 2017.
Letter to the LA Times
April 11, 1998
For example, they say, LAX could begin operating on the 17,700 acres the Los Angeles Department of Airports owns in Palmdale.
Partnership members voted on Thursday to draft a letter to the Los Angeles City Council and airport officials, asking them to consider the Palmdale acreage in their discussions on alleviating the badly congested airport.
Lancaster Mayor George Runner, Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich also are sending separate letters to airport officials to add weight to the community's vision of seeing the airport facilities here expanded.
Larry Chimbole, Palmdale Regional Airport Advisory Committee chairman, told partnership members their letters are important.
Partnership members invited Chimbole to the meeting for his advice on dealing with airport officials. He suggested studying the number of commuters, using their destinations as a way to prove to potential airport companies there is business here.
"I don't use LAX, I fly from Ontario. It will take 20 years under current environmental laws for them to expand into Santa Monica Bay. My approach would be to make the facility look attractive so they have to use it," Chimbole said.
Six to eight interested companies have looked at the airport in the past year, but nothing has come of those inquiries yet, he said. However, a market study could make the difference, Chimbole said.
"I know the numbers are encouraging, but in a study they could be convincing. I don't know the destinations they go, but I think Sacramento is one of the destinations," he said.
Airport officials are not rejecting Palmdale as an option, Chimbole said, but it will take more than PRAAC to get them moving.
"It's not going to happen in my lifetime, but it could happen in yours," he told the partnership members.
© 1996 Antelope Valley Press, Palmdale, California, USA
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