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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Palmdale Not Giving Up on Air Service

The cancellation of United Airlines service at LA/Palmdale Regional Airport will not put the brakes on the city securing commercial air service for the Antelope Valley. While United’s announcement it would stop its daily flights to San Francisco in December was disappointing, Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said that it was just a matter of time and finding the right carrier to make service from the airport successful. “As we continue to grow and get more people and as congestion increases in the (Los Angeles) basin we become an alternative for some people,” Ledford said. The service from Palmdale was one of several routes eliminated by United as the airline cuts its least profitable routes. The flights from the Antelope Valley had a difficult time in attracting passengers since the service began in June 2007. To make the service more attractive, the airline tweaked its schedules to allow for better connections from San Francisco; priced tickets competitive with similar flights from Los Angeles International Airport and Bob Hope in Burbank; and added flights using prop planes. But in the end, with skyrocketing oil prices placing a heavy financial burden on all airlines it was decided the service would expire Dec. 7. “In this economic environment there wasn’t enough interest to profitably offer the service,” United spokesman Jeff Kovick said. LAWA will still keep Palmdale open as an option in its regionalization strategy to relieve stress on LAX, although getting another airline interested will be tough in the face of a lack of passenger interest, said agency Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey. The United flights were only 30 to 35 percent filled and no airline can make it with such low figures, Lindsey said. With Bob Hope Airport just 45 minutes away, it was difficult for United to compete for passengers who could fly for less on Southwest, Ledford said. The city will continue to press airlines to consider Palmdale service although it takes finding the right airline, Ledford said. “Our goal is a fully operational airport and we have to keep pushing,” Ledford said. Palmdale has a spotty history of scheduled commercial air service from the airfield operating from a portion of a larger Air Force base. Before United, Scenic Airways offered flights to North Las Vegas from late 2004 through March 2006. Other carriers previously offered service to LAX and Phoenix. The difference this time was $2 million in funding, including a $900,000 Small Community Air Service Development Grant, guaranteeing United a revenue stream for the 18 months the airline agreed to operate there. The airline did what it could to accommodate the passengers that did use the service,; Los Angeles County contributed with its Flyaway bus service. Airport officials next looked to contracts with the General Services Administration to fill seats with government employees flying to the Antelope Valley for its military installations and aerospace companies doing defense work. But Lindsay said that those contracts were not going to be “a great panacea” because there was no anticipation many employees would use the service because of the cost involved. In a perfect world, the GSA contracts would have been secured when the United service started in 2007, Ledford said.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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