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Inland Empire congressman's bill would speed up transfer of Ontario airport

May 18, 2012

A congressman from the Inland Empire on Friday introduced a bill aimed at speeding up the transfer of LA/Ontario International Airport from the city of Los Angeles back to the city of Ontario.

If the measure is ultimately approved, Los Angeles World Airports would have 60 days to hand over ownership of the midsize airport or run the risk of having funds withheld by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Additionally, a commission would be created to assess the airport's fair market value in an attempt to force LAWA to sell it back to the city of Ontario, according to the measure authored by Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino.

"LAWA's continued mismanagement of Ontario airport has led to exorbitant costs, large reductions in flight traffic, weakened security and a significant loss of jobs and revenue for our local economies," Baca said. "If LAWA is not going to give our airport a fair shot at success, then we must do everything in our power to return Ontario to local control."

In a related move, the state Assembly's Committee on Local Government is expected next month to consider a bill by state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, that calls for creating an Inland Empire-based authority to negotiate a transfer plan for Ontario airport.

The city of Los Angeles assumed management of Ontario airport in 1967, then purchased the property in 1985 so it could build two new terminals for $270 million.

Ontario's city leaders launched a campaign nearly two years ago to regain control of the ailing airport, which has lost about one-third of its traveler base since 2007.

Inland Empire leaders have repeatedly claimed that LAWA allowed Ontario airport to struggle while focusing on efforts to boost traffic at Los Angeles International Airport.

Last March, the Los Angeles City Council's Trade. Commerce and Tourism Committee called for a full financial study to determine whether Ontario airport should be sold back to the city of Ontario. The city's administrative officer is examining the airport's fair market value and is expected this summer to advise the full City Council how a potential transfer could take place.

Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of LAWA, said she plans to tell Congress that Ontario airport has not fully recovered from a recession-fueled loss of flights and faces the same downturn experiences at other medium-hub airports across the country.

"Irrespective of who owns Ontario airport, it is critical that LAWA and Inland Empire lawmakers work together to develop a plan and a path forward on how to make Ontario airport thrive in a very challenging economy," Lindsey said. "Local control, in and of itself, is not going to be the cure-all for what ails Ontario airport."