Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford has long dreamed of building his city’s airport into a regional air traffic hub. But two decades into his tenure in office, Palmdale Regional Airport has no commercial flights.
But the City Council is expected to take steps that could begin to change that. Council members are poised to adopt an agreement Wednesday that could eventually give it oversight of key portions of the airport now controlled by the city of Los Angeles through Los Angeles World Airports.
“There’s no payment involved. This is merely to take control of an airport that exists in our community today that has no passenger service,” Ledford said. “We anticipate that will change. We want to be part of a viable regional airport system in Southern California.”
If the council agrees – as Ledford said it is almost certain to do – the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners and Los Angeles City Council would next take up the issue. Los Angeles’ airport authority has managed much of Palmdale’s airport since late 1967. Under the new agreement, Palmdale would take control of a terminal building, parking lot and taxiway.
Los Angeles World Airports spokeswoman Nancy Castles said in an email that LAWA is prepared to transfer operations, management and control of the regional airport to Palmdale.
The Palmdale scenario unfolds as LAWA decides what to do with LA/Ontario International Airport, which it also operates. Many Ontario-area officials have long said the Los Angeles airport authority has been focusing only on Los Angeles International Airport, allowing passenger traffic at other fields to drop considerably.
Ontario also wants to gain local control of its airport, though that process is in its early stages. Ontario’s hopes may have been buoyed slightly last week when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion to review whether Los Angeles World Airports is following a 2006 legal settlement that requires it to seek to distribute air traffic throughout the region.
“It’s really our hope we get local control returned to us prior to the demise of Ontario, as is what happened with Palmdale,” Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner said.
In Palmdale, Los Angeles World Airports will continue to own more than 17,000 acres of airport land. At one point, the airport authority was
seriously considering building a major airport on the site to relieve congestion at LAX. For now, though, there is little development on that
Ledford said Palmdale likely will gain enough land for 200 daily departures and 200 daily arrivals.
The last time the airport had commercial service – in 2008 – United Express operated flights to San Francisco using Skywest Airlines turboprops. The service lasted 18 months and ended as soon as a federal grant meant to prop up air service expired.
But Ledford said he is confident the airport can thrive under local control. He noted that, eventually, Palmdale is slated to have high-speed train service under Gov. Jerry Brown’s ambitious plans. He also said local train service operated by Metrolink could play a role in the airport’s growth.
“The dream is an intermodal facility unlike anything in America,” Ledford said. “We are in a community that wants an airport. We will be able to handle quite a lot of demand.”