Report cites concerns and urgent need for action on Ontario Airport
As nearby airports recovered from 9/11, a perfect storm of factors and decisions caused Ontario International Airport (ONT) to lose two decades of hard-fought passenger growth in just 24 months. This was the conclusion of an in-depth analysis released today by the city of Ontario as it seeks to take control of the medium hub airport.
The 25-page white paper provides the first comprehensive look at why “there is grave reason for concern” about the future of what should be a major component of the region’s air transportation system. ONT is the only airport in the Los Angeles basin that can grow without worry about noise or facility constraints or passenger caps.
City leaders in Los Angeles, which currently operates the facility, must act now to prevent further loss of flights at ONT, where unusually high operating costs contributed to a decision by Southwest Airlines alone to cut its daily departures by a third in the last decade, the report said. The plummeting number of seats at Ontario provides a dismal level of air service for this fast-growing region, the analysis found. And it’s only likely to get worse, the reported noted.
“Adding to the need for immediate action, airlines serving ONT have announced flight schedule reductions of nearly 8 percent in the second half of 2010,” the white paper stated. “In economic terms, the decline in air service at ONT from 2007-2009 has meant the loss of over $400 million to the Inland Empire regional economy and the loss of over 8,000 jobs.”
The report, titled “Ontario International Airport – A Recovery Plan,” points out the need for the city of Ontario to take over the troubled airport from the current operator, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA).
“Our report is a call to action by the two city governments to work together in a spirit of cooperation and sense of urgency to advance the goal of airport regionalization in Southern California by providing for local control of Ontario Airport,” said Ontario Mayor pro Tem Alan D. Wapner. “The evidence is compelling that airports in Southern California are most successful when managed locally.”
Among the report’s key findings:
- For four decades an agreement between Ontario and Los Angeles, under which Los Angeles operates the airport, benefited the region. Today, however, this deal represents a conflict of interest for Los Angeles–which is focused on aggressively courting service for Los Angeles International Airport at Ontario International’s expense. (The need for LAWA to relinquish control of ONT and concentrate on LAX was highlighted by Los Angeles airport commissioners and LAWA officials in public comments at the July 14, 2010, meeting of the LA Board of Airport Commissioners.)
- $8.7 million in administrative costs levied each year by LAWA contributes to operating expenses at Ontario International that are the highest in the region, and twice the average for mid-sized U.S. airports. These costs make it difficult for airlines to make a profit at Ontario.
- With 302 people on its payroll, Ontario employs nearly twice as many workers as John Wayne Airport in Orange County, where a staff of 175 handles 56% more passengers annually.
- Los Angeles’ airport agency slashed its marketing budget for Ontario by 85 percent from up to $3 million a year from 2005 through 2007 to $400,000 for the current fiscal year.
- A continuing downward spiral results from high airport costs contributing to reduced air service which in turn results in fewer choices of flights and reduced passenger volumes.
By revising the existing agreement between the cities of Ontario and Los Angeles to return control of the 87-year-old airport to Ontario, the analysis found, leaders in both regions can focus on their respective facilities. The long-term viability of the region’s economy depends on no less, the report stated. Transferring control of ONT to the city of Ontario would eliminate this conflict and allow the two cities to focus exclusively on their local airports.
“Under local control, ONT will simultaneously reduce its cost structure and increase its marketing, advertising and promotion spending to provide the airport capacity Southern California needs in the long term to protect its tourism economy,” the report concluded.
The Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments – consisting of 81 elected officials from five counties – voted unanimously Sept. 2 to issue a letter of support for the transfer of ONT to local control.
Ontario city officials said they intend to provide Los Angeles with proposed transfer terms in the near future.
The White Paper is available to download at the city of Ontario’s airport website: http://www.ontariocalifornia.us/ONT
About The City of Ontario
The City of Ontario is Southern California’s Next Urban Center. Located just 35 miles from Los Angeles, Ontario is uniquely positioned as the “economic engine” of one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. Ontario is home to Ontario International Airport and an incomparable transportation system of three major freeways and two railroads that provide access to the region, the nation and the globe. With a highly skilled local talent base and lower cost space than coastal counties, Ontario, California is the place to do business. For more information, visit http://www.ci.ontario.ca.us.