The city of Los Angeles should turn Ontario International Airport over to the city of Ontario to stop a continuing slide in the numbers of flights and passengers using the Inland Empire airport, Ontario officials said Tuesday.
In a 25-page report on the airport's shrinking revenues and activities, Ontario officials said ``a perfect storm of factors and decisions caused Ontario International Airport to lose two decades of hard-fought passenger growth in just 24 months.''
Ontario officials said their report is 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.''
``Immediate action,'' they said, because airlines at the Ontario airport have announced flight schedule reductions of nearly 8 percent for the second half of this year. They said Southwest Airlines has cut daily departures by a third in the last decade and the ``plummeting number of seats at Ontario provides a dismal level of air service for this fast-growing region.''
According to Ontario Mayor Pro Tem Alan D. Wapner:
``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.''
The report charged that Los Angeles World Airports, the city department
that operates Los Angeles International Airport as well as the Ontario, Van
Nuys and Palmdale airports, has a conflict of interest because it ``is focused
on aggressively courting service for Los Angeles International Airport at
Ontario International's expense.''
The report also said:
-- operating expenses at ONT are the highest in the region due to LAWA administrative costs.
-- the number of people on the ONT payroll is greater than that of Orange County's John Wayne Airport, which has more passenger traffic.
-- LAWA has cut the ONT marketing budget.
-- 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.''
Ontario officials said that if officials of Ontario and Los Angeles return the 87-year-old airport to local control, ``leaders in both regions can focus on their respective facilities.''
LAWA's deputy executive director of external affairs, Mike Molina, disputed the contention that the agency has favored LAX at the expense of ONT.
``We feel that Ontario's report, released today, accurately describes many of the challenges and realities that is faced each day at Ontario Airport,'' he said. ``While we agree with most of the findings in the report, we still respectfully disagree with a few of their conclusions, namely that LAWA management has somehow mismanaged the airport.''
Molina said Ontario continues to be a LAWA priority. He added the agency has been cutting costs at Ontario, including reducing staff from 425 to 300 over the last two years.
When asked whether LAWA would receive any benefits by relinquishing ONT to the city of Ontario, Molina said, ``I think that's premature to say. What is still missing is a formal proposal from the city of Ontario relative to the management of the airport.''
``To date, we have not seen a detailed proposal as to what the city of Ontario means by `managing or operating' the airport'' Molina added. ``Does that mean the terminal, the airfield, the real estate surrounding the airport, or all three? And what is the process by which that would happen?''
The Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments sided with the city of Ontario.
It issued a statement on Sept. 2, saying ``SCAG believes that under local operating control, ONT can recover from the economic downturn of the past several years, while positioning itself for long-term growth which would be consistent with the `reorganization' of the air traffic contemplated in the SCAG's Regional Transportation Plan.''
``By transferring control of ONT to the city of Ontario, ONT will operate on the same basis that airports in Burbank, Orange County, Long Beach qand Palm Springs operate as a low-cost secondary airport under local control,'' the statement added.
The full text of the report is online at http://www.ontariocalilfornia.us/ONT.