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United Agrees to Double Palmdale Flights

Looks like United has given in and agreed to modify its Palmdale flying schedule. Beginning in September, instead of two daily CRJs to SFO, there will be four daily Brasilias, the 30 seat turboprop that United has slowly been phasing out. Anyone want to bet that this will work? Anyone? Bueller?

If you read my post earlier this month on the subject, you’ll know that I’ve been critical of LAWA’s efforts to pour time and money into Palmdale. And if you haven’t read the comments section, I’d highly recommend it. I apparently hit quite a nerve with someone doing work for LAWA, and it’s an entertaining read to say the least.

But my position hasn’t changed. I still don’t see this working right now. Let’s look at the fundamentals. Palmdale is in the heart of the Antelope Valley, an area that has seen rapid growth over the years because of its relatively affordable housing. But guess what? It’s an exurb, and those distant communities are taking the biggest hit in the current economic downturn. If you’d like to do a little reading, you can see this article from the LA Times in April 2007. Things have only gotten worse since then.

So it’s a probable that Palmdale alone isn’t going to be supporting major flights. There has been an effort to get people from the Santa Clarita area, the next major popular center, to use the airport by establishing bus service. 08_06_19 pmdmapNow if you don’t know where that is, it doesn’t really matter, but you can see it on the map at left. What matters is that it’s about 20 miles further to go from Santa Clarita to Palmdale than it is to go to Burbank. Even with the traffic, why would you go to Palmdale from there?

You wouldn’t. If you want to go to the Bay Area, you can fly Southwest or United from Burbank for less money and on more frequent flights than out of Palmdale. And it’s not like we’re talking LAX here. Burbank is a nice, small, and easy airport to navigate.

So can service work in Palmdale? Eventually. However, I don’t think San Francisco is going to be sustainable for a long, long time, even with more frequency. My guess is that any sustainable service at all is a few years off still at best. That’s why LAWA, the federal government, and others have had to pour $4.6m into this new service just to see if it can work. So far, the results haven’t been good.

Admittedly, the schedule will greatly improve with these new flights. Instead of northbound departures at only 6a and 11a, there will now be flights at 6a, 1015a, 1220p, and 645p. And instead of southbound flights at only 918a and 925p, there will be flights at 830a, 1035a, 5p, and 1020p. That being said, the flights will now take 18 to 33% longer on the northbound flight in the slow Brasilias. Block time increases from 1h9m to 1h32m northbound and from 1h13m to 1h26m southbound. That gives the Santa Clarita residents yet another reason to drive to Burbank.

I just have to wonder why United has decided to honor this request. They must still have a bunch of Brasilias under contract that are sitting around in the desert somewhere so they figured they’d give it a shot. All I know is that in May, the airline filled 42% of its seats. That means 42 out of the 100 seats flown each way per day were filled on average. Now there will be 120 seats in the market, and even if you can stimulate traffic by 50% because of this new glorious schedule, you’ll still only have a 52.5% seat factor. That seems quite optimistic to me, and it’s not going to cut it unless you’re getting some fairly incredible fares.

You can bet I’ll be keeping an eye on this one as time goes by. I’m heading out of town this afternoon and won’t have email access again until Sunday, so please write comments and I will approve them (if necessary) when I return.

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