Politics

Ontario Airport: Deal struck to return airport to local control

File: Travelers pass through L.A./ Ontario International Airport on the eve of Thanksgiving Nov. 26, 2008 in Ontario.
File: Travelers pass through L.A./ Ontario International Airport on the eve of Thanksgiving Nov. 26, 2008 in Ontario.
David McNew/Getty Images

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Los Angeles and Ontario have made an agreement to return Ontario International Airport to local control, avoiding further litigation in a civil suit that was set to start later this month. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and southwest San Bernardino County's Ontario Mayor pro Tem Alan Wapner announced the agreement at a Thursday press conference.

“Together, we've reached a deal that will benefit everyone: Inland Empire residents, Angelenos, LAWA, the Ontario Airport, and the dedicated employees who work at our airports," Garcetti said. "I have supported the transfer of ONT to local control since my first day in office and I am thrilled that we can stop litigation and focus on a partnership that expands Southern California's commitment to superior air travel."

Ownership will be transferred to Ontario International Airport Authority, which was formed in 2012 for such an occasion and is comprised of Inland officials, according to the Press-Enterprise. The entire transfer, including FAA approval, is expected to be completed within a year, according to a news release.

The deal will end L.A. operation of the airport that began in 1967 and ownership that began in 1985 on the condition that L.A. officials make a good effort to attract airlines, the L.A. Times reported. After passengers dropped by 3 million people from 2007 to 2012, Ontario sued L.A. and the two cities have since disagreed on the airport’s value.

That means that the agreement is unlikely to end the airport’s struggles.

Aviation consultant Jack Keady says LAX has taken much of the Ontario airport's lost traffic, because airlines have chosen to embrace a strategy of expanding at the biggest hubs.
 
“There’s connecting traffic available at Los Angeles,” said Keady.
 
For example, for American Airlines, it makes more sense to have flights going, say, from Dallas to LAX, because Dallas passengers can continue onto Shanghai. More flights at LAX means lower prices there, while less competition at Ontario means fares go up, and traffic goes down. It’s a vicious cycle.
 
Keady says it also doesn’t help most workers in the Inland Empire — dominated by warehouse and trucking jobs — don’t tend to fly for business.
 
“You don’t have the highly paid, very mobile heavy-traveling white-collar people you really need,” said Keady.
 
By contrast, a small airport like San Jose has been able to thrive by taking advantage of being located in close proximity to Silicon Valley tech companies.

The transfer's benefits will include easing traffic and congestion around LAX, said Councilmember Mike Bonin, according to the release. He represents the area around the airport.

Local representative Ken Calvert reacted to the news on twitter:

Ken Calvert tweet

“I have tried to help facilitate the process to reach a settlement over Ontario International Airport, and I salute the mayor and other officials for making it happen, as building additional service at the airport is in the best interests of passengers and the area,” California's Sen. Dianne Feinstein said.

Gercetti and Wapner issued a statement at the press conference saying that L.A. and Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) will be reimbursed for the investment they've made in the airport and that the airport's current employees will be protected, according to  the release. They plan to draw up a longer form agreement within 60 days, with the official approval process beginning in October.

Garcetti Instagram

"This action will help ensure that Southern California has the airport capacity to meet the long-term demand for air travel and restore the region’s most important economic and jobs engine," Wapner said.