PALMDALE, Calif. — In a telephone interview with Aerotech News on Nov. 23, Palmdale City Manager JJ Murphy said the city’s bold initiative to restore scheduled daily airline service for the Aerospace Valley is on target to hear a “go or no go” from Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.
If the newly sworn in Kendall signs onto the concept, a new Joint Use Agreement between the city and Air Force Plant 42 will be negotiated, clearing the way for development of the proposed new air terminal location on a 600-acre city-owned site bordering Plant 42 on the north, with passenger access from East Avenue M. The previous Joint Use Agreement authorizing scheduled airline service and a Plant 42 terminal expired in 2017.
Murphy points out bipartisan support is also coming into play with letters of support for the next Joint Use Agreement sent to the Secretary from Congressman Michael Garcia, R-25, and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.
Palmdale’s new data-driven airline service strategy marks a major departure from myriad experiences with trial-and-error approaches in previous years.
Murphy said several airlines have expressed interest in serving Palmdale Regional. And although he said it is far too early to talk details, he assured that the destination routes will serve the needs of the region’s passengers, and not the aspirations of airline traffic managers. Asked which direction he believes flights from Palmdale should go, Murphy didn’t skip a beat: “East, we have to go east. I’d say DFW,” (Dallas-Fort Worth).
The city-funded, data-driven feasibility study research found significant demand for regional commercial air service to one or more major airports with scheduled flights to hub airports in major cities east of California with easy connections to destinations for both domestic and international business travel.
The City of Palmdale continues to coordinate with the Air Force Materiel Command Headquarters at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Edwards Air Force Base, along with contractor companies on and around Palmdale’s Air Force Plant 42 to bring back commercial air service to the high desert region.
Without scheduled airline service, residents primarily drive or ride buses between 60 and more than 100 miles to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, or more distant Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and Ontario Airport. Metrolink service is possible but difficult for airline passengers, since rail lines send short of both Burbank and LAX, requiring delays for ground transportation and scheduling.
Establishing regular, reliable, affordable, and professional air carrier service remains a top priority for both the military and contractors. As an example, being able to avoid 206-mile roundtrip drives from Edwards AFB to LAX would save the government $2,389,600 in driving costs alone, save time for personnel and remove the additional driving hazards facing key people with specialized expertise.
†According to the new and previously unpublicized brochure PDF file attached to the city hall website, the marketing campaign and plans for “innovative financing and project delivery tools” for scheduled airline service is based on findings from a new city-funded feasibility study. With the city-owned location near the railroad tracks and the entrance onto Avenue M, the new civil airport terminal is planned to be built on some portion of the property where Palmdale previously planned a now canceled power plant.
Although the land sold to Palmdale by Lockheed Martin several years ago contains a number of newly state-protected Joshua trees, Martin told Aerotech News that Palmdale is one of only three communities in the state to be granted an exemption from the new conservation law, based on the city’s historic preservation work with replanting procedures yielding a 98 percent survival rate for Joshua trees.
Looking for a working example of the private/public partnership approach Palmdale intends, Murphy said he traveled to Paine Field adjacent to Boeing’s largest manufacturing plant in Everett, Wash. Although Paine Field and Boeing are just 20 miles away from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEATAC), the downtown Seattle crowding and traffic congestion made company travel from there nearly impossible. Paine Field is also home to several aviation museums.
Scheduled airline service in the High Desert region of North Los Angeles and Southeastern Kern counties has been a story of feast and famine for decades.
Gen. William J. Fox County Airfield in Lancaster had scheduled daily airline service as far back as the 1950s, but nothing since the 1980s. Fox Field remains as the only one of five Los Angeles County-owned airports to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration for providing scheduled airline service.
The Los Angeles County Airports Commission, which advises the Board of Supervisors was scheduled for a public ZOOM meeting at 10 a.m., Nov. 24 to continue discussion on creating a marketing plan for the airports, including Fox. Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger was reportedly aware of the Palmdale initiative.
In the 1960s, Palmdale was proclaimed by the Los Angeles Department of Airports as the future home of what was to be Palmdale International Airport, a plan that sold real estate, but not a single airline ticket on the 17,000-acre desert site.
Years later, Los Angeles World Airways and the City of Palmdale, in cooperation with the Air Force, opened a Palmdale Regional Airport terminal, which saw a succession of feeder airline tenants, usually with subsidies and operating with various degrees of success, depending on shifts in the economy and having enough flights to the right destinations for passengers. Commercial carriers recruited to Palmdale Regional included America West, American Eagle, Horizon, Skywest, and United Express, the last to depart.
The passenger service market area for the new Palmdale airport is the familiar High Desert triangle, encompassing Ridgecrest/China Lake on the north, I-5 at Gorman on the west, and the San Bernardino County Line on the east. Within the triangle are Mojave, Rosamond, Edwards AFB, Lancaster, Palmdale, Quartz Hill, and rural and foothill communities.