Phosphatidic acid (PA) is postulated to have both structural and signaling functions during membrane dynamics in animal cells. In this study, we show that before a critical time period during rhabdomere biogenesis in Drosophila melanogaster photoreceptors, elevated levels of PA disrupt membrane transport to the apical domain. Lipidomic analysis shows that this effect is associated with an increase in the abundance of a single, relatively minor molecular species of PA. These transport defects are dependent on the activation state of Arf1. Transport defects via PA generated by phospholipase D require the activity of type I phosphatidylinositol (PI) 4 phosphate 5 kinase, are phenocopied by knockdown of PI 4 kinase, and are associated with normal endoplasmic reticulum to Golgi transport. We propose that PA levels are critical for apical membrane transport events required for rhabdomere biogenesis.