This airport is generally considered one of the largest civilian airports in the world due to the size of the 5,800 acres (23 km²) Plant 42 operates and the surrounding 17,500 acres (69.4 km²) of LAWA owned land. It serves predominantly as a manufacturing plant for aircraft used by the United States military forces. It is also planned for expanded commercial service. The airport currently has a small commercial air terminal owned and operated by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), a department of the City of Los Angeles.
In 1966 The Los Angeles Department of Airports, now called Los Angeles World Airports, LAWA, acquired several thousand acres of land around Plant 42 to be developed into the future "Palmdale Intercontinental Airport," with the goal of surpassing the air traffic of LAX. To date, LAWA has so far not developed its Palmdale airport beyond that of a small commuter airport serving only the Antelope Valley. With few airlines able to sustain long-term service from the airport, only recently in 2000 has work towards the construction of a larger terminal been started.
The current terminal was remodeled and reopened in May 2007 for the return of commercial service to the airport. The City of Palmdale has promoted the airport to attract more commercial carriers to the existing terminal, but convincing airlines of the marketability of the airport without subsidies has been difficult. Palmdale airport offers airline passengers a quicker ground transportation travel time from Sherman Oaks than the standard LAX airport car trip down the San Diego 405 freeway, but so far the airport does not provide the range of destinations that would convince passengers to try Palmdale as an alternative to relieve the overcrowding at LAX and Bob Hope Airport. Most of the communities surrounding more crowded airports do not want the added traffic volume and noise to the area. Expansion of Palmdale Regional is also welcomed by a good number of Antelope Valley residents, and is seen by some Valley residents as the long awaited foundation for stabilizing the local economy.
In January 2007, subsidies valued at $4.6 million, with $2 million slated to underwrite losses incurred from providing airline service was raised to restore commercial service to the airport. The incentive package included a $900,000 grant from the federal government given to the city of Palmdale to develop regional airport service.
Then in February 2007, the City of Palmdale and LAWA selected United Airlines to provide service between Palmdale and San Francisco International Airport. (The only other proposal was from Delta Air Lines to Salt Lake City). The SkyWest Airlines operated United Express twice-daily, regional jet service began on June 7, 2007.
Between June 7 and December 31, 2007, the airport had served a total of 12,022 passengers. Based on this total and the current level of service, the annual average passenger volume of Palmdale Regional Airport should be about 21,198 passengers annually.
On September 3, 2008, the San Francisco service was increased from two 50-seat regional jets to four 30-seat turboprop flights per day. However, on its September 18 schedule update, United canceled all flights beginning December 7, 2008, the day after the expiration of the federal grant and exactly 18 months after the beginning of the PMD services.