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LA City Council rejects $246 million offer for Ontario Airport

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A $246 million offer to return Ontario International Airport to the control of Inland Empire officials was officially rejected Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council, though the city’s top budget official was directed to find an alternative solution in the next 90 days.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) operates LA/Ontario International Airport, but the city of Ontario has launched a public relations campaign to return the airport to local control. Five years ago, Ontario had 7.2 million passengers pass through the airport. Last year, traffic dropped to 4.5 million passengers. Ontario officials believe that drop was due in part to L.A.'s neglect of the airport.

The city agency that operates the Ontario Airport rejects that notion. Part of the problem is airlines are limiting their routes in and out of smaller, regional airports, said Gina Marie Lindsey, general manager of Los Angeles World Airports. When airlines map out routes, managers look at household income, the unemployment rate, and new housing starts, she said.

“They have become very risk adverse with the fuel prices being unpredictable and with the economy nationwide being fairly sluggish – they have concentrated their activity in the more robust demographic areas,” Lindsey said.

The city of Ontario had offered Los Angeles a package valued at $246 million in exchange for ownership of the airport. The deal included a $50 million payment to the General Fund, the assumption of $71 million in bond indebtedness, and repayment of $125 million in fees.

“Ontario Airport is on the brink of disaster,” said Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner. “The only reason that the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports has Ontario International Airport is to control your own competition and your strategy has been very effective.” 

The L.A. city administrative officer will meet with Ontario city and San Bernardino County representatives in the next three months to find a path that would allow an entity other than LAWA to control the airport.

“It’s certainly has had more robust days, but it is still an incredible asset for the city,” said Miguel Santana, the Los Angeles city administrative officer.

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