Commercial Flight takes off from Palmdale, Calif.

Thursday, December 30, 2004
Commercial Flight takes off from Palmdale, Calif., marking first in 7 years
The Los Angeles (CA) Daily News

PALMDALE, Calif. — Antelope Valley’s first airline flight in nearly seven years departed Wednesday in what civic leaders hope will be a successful resumption of commercial air service. Scenic Airlines’ 19-passenger De Havilland Twin Otter departed from the Palmdale Regional Airport terminal at Air Force Plant 42 after a send-off from Palmdale’s mayor and other city officials, Los Angeles airports officials and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

“Look what Santa left under our Christmas tree. This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Palmdale Mayor James Ledford said. “To Scenic Airlines, I’d like to say thank you. We appreciate your confidence in the Antelope Valley.”

Some 500 tickets have already been sold for Scenic’s flights, which will take place once or twice daily seven days a week between Palmdale and Las Vegas.

Scores of customers stood in line for 2-for-1 ticket deals for $49, which were only on sale Wednesday. After Wednesday, the introductory fare will be $49 each way. Regular fares will be $79 nonrefundable one way or $109 refundable. Scenic has not decided when the introductory fares will end.

“We usually go four times a year,” said Lancaster Realtor Joy Colovin, who bought 2-for-1 tickets to use next month with her husband. “We thought we’d do something different. We usually drive. … It’s a great price.”

Part of the send-off was drawings for free three-day stays over New Year’s Eve at the New York-New York hotel — if the winners came with suitcases packed, ready to get on the first flight.

The winners were two Palmdale couples who are frequent Las Vegas visitors: retirees Carol and Dennis Ryan, and Melinda Valadez, 25, and boyfriend Juan Lopez.

“It’s amazing. I can’t believe it,” Valadez said.

Dennis Ryan said he thinks the federal government should order Los Angeles to shift flights to Palmdale to reduce congestion and improve safety at Los Angeles International Airport.

“We have plenty of land out here,” Dennis Ryan said.

The Ryans, who moved to Palmdale a year ago from Hawaii, where Dennis Ryan worked 37 years for the U.S. Army, have a son who lives in Las Vegas.

“Early this morning we woke up, we packed our bags and said, Let’s go for it. I’m so excited,” Carol Ryan said before the flight.

Airport and city officials hope other airlines follow Scenic to Palmdale. Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Palmdale Regional under an agreement with the Air Force that lets airliners use the plant’s runways, is offering subsidies on rents and other expenses to try to lure more airlines.

“I am confident that Scenic will be the first of several airlines to choose Palmdale as a destination on their route map in coming weeks and months,” said Cheryl Petersen, president of the Airport Board of Commissioners.

For years, airlines have been reluctant to offer flights out of Palmdale — despite crowding, noise complaints and other issues elsewhere — because they doubt that passengers will use the airport. Three commuter airlines tried and gave up in the 1990s.

But Los Angeles County’s population growth can’t be met by leaning so heavily on LAX, Antonovich said.

“Our county can no longer rely on one major airport to meet the needs of our 10 million citizens,” the supervisor said.

Los Angeles owns more than 17,000 acres of desert east of Plant 42, bought starting in the 1960s for a proposed international airport that was stymied by environmental concerns and other issues.

But the agreement with the Air Force lets commercial flights use the Plant 42 runways without the need to build an entirely new airport.

“In Los Angeles, I don’t know if they know Plant 42 exists. They’ve been waiting for the new airport to be built. This has existed all along,” Ledford said. “Now we have an opportunity to demonstrate the (air travelers) market does exist.”