Expansion of Palmdale Airport Urged

TIMES STAFF WRITER

County supervisors agreed Tuesday to ask Mayor Richard Riordan to consider expanding Palmdale Regional Airport in the Antelope Valley instead of pursuing a plan to extend Los Angeles International Airport into Santa Monica Bay.

In letters to be sent to city officials, supervisors said they will stress that while environmentalists have criticized the Los Angeles International expansion plan, Antelope Valley residents want a bigger airport.

And while the city might have to purchase land to expand near LAX, the city's Department of Airports has since 1969 owned about 18,000 empty acres adjacent to Palmdale airport.

"This land was acquired specifically to relieve air traffic congestion at LAX," said Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the Palmdale area.

But Jack Driscoll, executive director of the city's Department of Airports, said major airlines have shunned Palmdale as being too remote from the major Southern California population centers. That lack of interest is why the city has not built a major airport in the Antelope Valley.

Within 20 years, LAX will handle 98 million passengers annually, up from the current 54 million, and freight is projected to increase from 1.7 million tons to 4.2 million.

To handle that growth, the city is preparing a master plan for expansion that includes several alternatives, such as building two more runways at LAX, one of which would be built on landfill in Santa Monica Bay. The plan is scheduled for completion by the end of 1996, and includes options such as expanding other city-owned regional airports, such as Van Nuys and Ontario.

Heal the Bay, an environmental group, responded negatively to the LAX plan, and any expansion would probably arouse neighborhood opposition as well.

The Palmdale site is near the Air Force's Plant 42 facility, and the community is eager for a big airport.

"They would be happy to have a lot of noise and a lot airplanes coming in," Driscoll said.

Frank Roberts, a city councilman from neighboring Lancaster--and head of that city's redevelopment agency--agreed.

"This airport has been sitting there for years, and we've been working on its utilization for a long time," he said. "The supervisors' action was a good step forward."

At one time, the Palmdale facility--located in the High Desert and sharing a runway with Plant 42--was envisioned as the site of an international airport. In 1969, the Department of Airports purchased 17,700 acres of land to build it.

The airport fell on hard times, however, largely because of the growth of local airports from Burbank to Ontario, but also because of the region's economic downturn, Driscoll said.

Now, only one carrier, New Mexico-based Mesa Airlines--which operates as United Express and offers flights only to LAX--flies out of the airport's single terminal. SkyWest Airlines discontinued service in 1994.

Now the facility is skewed toward military uses. In January, there were 355 arrivals and departures from civilian aircraft, but 4,928 from military planes.

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