To Gain Control or Not Gain Control – The Ontario Airport Ongoing Controversy

By Krishna Rajagopalan

The recent controversy between the Ontario Airport and Los Angeles World Airports has stirred up quite a bit of discussion. For a while, Los Angeles World Airports, which owns Ontario Airport, has been charging very high passenger fees, which turns off potential Ontario Airport passengers. Those passengers end up going to LAX because passenger fees are dramatically lower at LAX than at Ontario Airport. Ontario Airport officials are concerned that their airport may be forced to shut down if this trend continues. Los Angeles World Airport officials instead blame the current recession and changing business models for the lack of passengers at Ontario Airport. However, LAX refuses to give up control because it wants to use those funds from Ontario to modernize LAX.
Passengers who live in South El Monte will have to commute to LAX, which is much farther for them than Ontario Airport. Currently, residents in the San Gabriel Valley, particularly South El Monte and Monrovia, use Ontario Airport as their choice for travel. The San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership met on Feb. 1st to execute a strategy of support for the city of Ontario to gain control of the airport, but nothing has been decided. Ontario officials argue that an estimated 8,000 airport-related jobs and $400 million in yearly business activity have been lost. For travelers, Ontario was a popular discount airport before the economic crash. Now, there are 47% fewer flights and about 60% fewer destinations.
If Ontario Airport becomes busier as a result of Ontario gaining control over their airport, Los Angeles World Airport officials fear that that LAX may lose business. Four years ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that the savings from closing Palmdale Airport – an estimated $7 annually – would go towards Ontario International Airport , yet nothing has come of that plan. In addition, the idea of Ontario taking control of its own airport has the support of twenty agencies including the Southern California Association of Governments, a powerful regional planning agency.
After three decades of stable growth and earning a Forbes rating as one of the nation’s top “alternative airports,” Ontario International is now among the fastest declining midsize airports in the country. Recently, a business passenger was traveling out of Ontario International, and was shocked to see an empty terminal and turned to the skycap who said that the airport was indeed open. All of the food outlets and shops were closed, and there were very few passengers in the middle of the day. The airport is expected to lose an additional 200,000 passengers, setting it back to the 1987 levels when Ronald Reagan was president. To put it into perspective, nationally, Cincinnati is the only airport losing passengers at this rate.
Inland Empire officials argue that while Los Angeles has had 12.4% to 13% unemployment, LAX has still managed to grow. Their efforts to reclaim the ownership of Ontario Airport has been galvanized by their disillusionment with Los Angeles World Airports that acquired Ontario Airport virtually free in 1985 (after operating it for nearly two decades). Ultimately, a compromise must be reached between the two entities in order for them to best meet the needs of their passengers.

March 1, 2012

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