Palmdale Flights are Struggling

You know I love talking about my local airports here in LA and what I consider to be a misguided regionalization strategy. Well, we’ve got some news out of Palmdale that backs me up.

Los Angeles World Airports, which operates Palmdale as well as LAX, Ontario, and Van Nuys, put in $4.6m in incentives to lure commercial service back to Palmdale airport last year. United won the bid and started operating twice daily flights from Palmdale to San Francisco on regional jets. How’s it doing?

Terrible. So far, flights are less than a third full, and I’m sure that the second that subsidy is gone, United is out of there. The airline has already tweaked the schedule, but that hasn’t helped things. LAWA has made other futile efforts to make this work, like adding bus service from Van Nuys to Palmdale. Now, why the heck would you take the bus from Van Nuys to Palmdale 50 miles away when you could go 10 miles and get to Burbank with more flights and lower fares? You wouldn’t.

So now, LAWA has a new plan. They think they need more frequent flights out of the airport. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Instead of two daily jet flights, they want four daily turboprop flights. Um, have they even talked to United about this? The only props United flies under its name right now are the 30 seat Embraer Brasilias. These are slowly being phased out, and I’d be surprised if United was looking to start new service with them.

So what should LAWA do? Look, if you need a subsidy to make a route work, it’s not a route that’s going to work. Are there people living in Palmdale that want to fly out of their local airport? Sure. But I would argue that San Francisco is not the right place to go. That means that any connection to the east is backtracking, and it’s via an airport that has terrible delay problems when the fog rolls in. I’ve always thought that a US Airways flight to Phoenix would have the best shot of success, but with fuel where it is right now, I wouldn’t expect to see anyone taking that risk.

LAWA needs to realize that people are not going to want to fly out of Palmdale unless they live in that area. It may eventually become the next Burbank, but it won’t be the next LAX. The sooner they get that through their heads, the sooner they can stop wasting money out there and start using it on upgrading LAX instead. That will have an impact on a lot more people.

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