Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Airport still grounded
End of ’04 new target for civilian flights
By Charles F. Bostwick
The Los Angeles (CA) Daily News
PALMDALE — With Los Angeles International Airport’s controversial $11 billion modernization plan moving ahead, LAX’s tiny sister Palmdale Regional Airport is ready with a terminal and runways — but no airline. Six years after the last commuter airline pulled out, officials had hoped service to Las Vegas would start in the spring this year, but the effort has been delayed by security considerations, now being worked out.
“If all goes well, … by the end of this year we’ll see the commencement of commercial operations,” Lt. Col. Ron Ortiz, Air Force Plant 42 commander, said.
Palmdale Regional Airport is on leased land at U.S. Air Force Plant 42, the government-owned aircraft production installation where the B-2 stealth bombers were assembled and where 6,700 aerospace employees work on other military planes.
North Las Vegas-based Scenic Airlines, best known for sightseeing flights over the Grand Canyon, plans to use 16-seat twin-propeller planes between Palmdale and the North Las Vegas Airport, serving both vacationers and people catching connecting flights elsewhere from Las Vegas.
Commuter airlines United Express, America West and SkyWest operated between Palmdale and LAX in the 1990s. Sometimes two airlines operated at a time. All pulled out — the last in 1998 — after failing to generate profits.
A different but persistent source of confusion about Palmdale Regional Airport is the land — 17,750 acres of desert — that Los Angeles began buying in 1969 east of Plant 42 for what was to be Palmdale Intercontinental Airport.
Fought by environmentalists and downsized over the succeeding decades, the planned airport remains just sagebrush, Joshua trees and farm fields, but Los Angeles has an agreement with the Air Force to use Plant 42’s runways.
Trying to spur interest among airlines in serving Palmdale, Los Angeles World Airports officials promised in September to reduce rents and waive airport maintenance and operation costs.
The first three airlines to open in Palmdale would get free rent the first year, one-third the usual rent the next year, and two-thirds the third year. For the first three years the airport would also forgive maintenance and operation costs, estimated at $776,000 per year for a single airline.
Additional airlines would get lesser rent breaks.
Under Los Angeles World Airports’s agreement with the Air Force, Plant 42 can be used by civilian airlines for up to 400 flights a day.
Transportation Security Administration rules set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks don’t require screening of passengers or baggage for planes as small as Scenic’s DeHavilland Twin Otters. But the Air Force asked for additional security measures because of the military flights and production work at Plant 42.
So Palmdale passengers will go through screening similar to that at major airports. Getting the security provisions set up also required work at North Las Vegas Airport, for boarding passengers and their baggage bound for Palmdale, Ortiz said.
“I’m satisfied with the security measures they are going to be putting in place,” Ortiz said.P