Editorial: Airport turbulence -- Potential Ontario solutions deserve further study
Few Southern Californians have given much thought to L.A./Ontario International Airport and the question of who should run it. The trouble is, few Southern Californians have given much thought to the Ontario airport at all lately.
Once considered a pleasant alternative to LAX, the Ontario airport is increasingly forgotten, and officials from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire are debating what to do about it.
This is a discussion that both sides should welcome.
For now, the talk has been traveling on a one-way ticket.
Ontario city leaders say they want to reclaim control of the facility from Los Angeles World Airports, the L.A. city agency that operates L.A./Ontario and LAX as well as Van Nuys Airport. They've offered $50 million to offset the costs of transferring operations and dissolving the 1967 agreement that put LAWA in charge.
But LAWA has said, essentially, "It's not for sale."
Fortunately, two Los Angeles city councilmen have paved the runway for dialogue. Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl introduced a motion last week asking for a report on the issue. They want to explore the Ontario airport's recent problems and the wisdom of the call to resume local control.
The problems are real: Since its peak in 2007, Ontario airport has seen passenger traffic decline by one-third. Since 2005, "ONT" has seen its share of the Southern California airport market slip from 8.2 percent to 5.1 percent.
According to a report last year, the decline in flights into and out of the airport 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles cost the Inland Empire economy $400 million and 8,000 jobs between 2007 and 2009.
The disagreement about the causes is real, too: Ontario partisans say their midsize airport is out of mind for many travelers because LAWA has failed to properly promote it; they charge that LAWA has practiced intentional neglect because it doesn't want to build up competition for the larger Los Angeles International. But LAWA blames the recession; LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey says the Ontario airport is too big for the local economy.
Of course, Los Angeles has suffered from the recession, too. Yet LAX has seen its business increase in the past few years.
Presumably, Ontario officials want what's best for their airport. They describe it as their region's major economic engine. Hotels and convention facilities play it up in their bids for out-of-town business.
According to a poll released by the "Set Ontario Free" campaign, Los Angeles residents think transferring control makes sense, 68 percent saying they favor the move.
If local control wouldn't help the airport recover, that should be demonstrated. Clearly the topic deserves further study and discussion.