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Palmdale Airport plans still up in the air

But the city has regained control from Los Angeles World Airports

Merdies Hayes | 8/2/2013, midnight

Plans are still being debated about the future of Palmdale Airport after the city finally took control of the facility last month from Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). Right now, Palmdale officials are working out the final details with Edwards Air Force Base in the effort to pursue air carriers and resume commercial flights out of the Antelope Valley. Edwards is primary user of the facility.

Passenger service was canceled at the facility in late 2008. Near the airport’s closing, only one in three seats, roughly 22 of 66 seats, was occupied on a typical commuter flight. At that point, United Express had attempted twice-daily flights to San Francisco using Skywest Airlines turboprops, but that 18-month effort ended because of a lack of demand for air service. Also, Palmdale Airport was one of the 200-plus air traffic control towers nationwide scheduled for closure as part of 2012 cost-cutting measures by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In March, the Palmdale City Council voted to take on key oversight portions of the airport from LAWA, the Los Angeles airport authority, which has operated the facility since 1967. Now, Palmdale will operate the terminal building, a parking lot and a taxiway. LAWA still owns more than 17,000 acres of airport land adjacent to the dry lake bed made famous by the many space shuttle landings as well as historic military test flights.

“There’s no payment involved,” said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford. “This is merely to take control of an airport that exists in our community today that has no passenger service. We anticipate that will change. We want to be part of a viable regional airport system in Southern California.”

Eventually, Ledford explained, the airport will benefit from the proposed high-speed rail service from the Central Valley, through the area and onto Las Vegas. He said local train service operated through Metrolink could play a role in the airport’s future. “The dream is an international facility unlike anything in America,” Ledford continued. “We are in a community that wants an airport; we will be able to handle quite a lot of demand.”

Originally, LAWA and Palmdale wanted to attract an airline to provide multiple daily regional jet departures to a large hub in the Western United States. This service would have provided travelers with a wide range of connecting flights to major business and leisure destinations throughout the country and the world. It’s still possible with the new owner, but with the LAX master plan under way designed to accommodate 4,500 passengers per hour, Palmdale will be challenged to justify operations in a region that appears to be overshadowed by busier flight hubs such as LAX, Van Nuys, Santa Monica and Ontario airports.

Though an official opening date is still “ . . . down the road,” said Palmdale public information officer John Mlynar, the airport could potentially see 200 daily departures and 200 daily arrivals.

By combining the existing 5,800 acres of the current airport with the 17,500 acres of undeveloped land for the future facility, Palmdale Airport could become one of the largest civilian airports in the world. The two main runways are each more than two miles long and have been used traditionally by the Air Force as well as United States military allies. At the time of its closing, 80 percent of airport operations were used by the military, 16 percent by general aviation, 2 percent by commercial flights and another 2 percent by air taxi service.