Los Angeles World Airports, the division of the city of Los Angeles which runs Los Angeles International, Ontario International and Van Nuys airports, indicated this week it will step up its marketing of Ontario Airport.
The city of Ontario, which entered into a cooperative airport operating agreement with the city of Los Angeles for Ontario Airport in 1967 and outright deeded the airport property to Los Angeles in 1985, in recent years has been pressing Los Angeles to relinquish control and ownership of the aerodrome back to Ontario. After Ontario Airport attracted a record 7.2 million passengers in 2007, its use has dropped off precipitously. Ontario officials blame Los Angeles World Airports for that drastic downturn, alleging that LAWA has been promoting Los Angeles International Airport at the expense of Ontario International. Ontario city manager Chris Hughes has said that the drop-off in passenger traffic at Ontario International has resulted in a serious dent in the local economy. “The region has lost half a billion dollars since 2007 and lost 9,000 jobs. Los Angeles World Airports has done nothing to stop the bleeding and improve passenger traffic at Ontario,” Hughes said.
Ontario officials maintain that Los Angeles World Airports officials have purposefully reduced their marketing campaign for Ontario Airport and have simultaneously escalated the per-enplaned passenger fees charged to the airlines at Ontario International to over $14, making it for the airlines the most expensive airport in the nation to fly from. Moreover, they claim, LAWA is employing far more support personnel at Ontario Airport than is necessary, making it more expensive still. Ontario officials maintain that if they regain control of the airport, they will change operational procedure and priorities and engage in a promotional campaign that will revive use of the airport.
In response, Los Angeles World Airports chief executive Gina Marie Lindsey this week publicly announced that LAWA is set to embark on “aggressive management techniques to market Ontario International Airport, and we will bring those ideas forward within 60 days.”
Lindsay said LAWA is in the process of assembling a new marketing team, including outside consultants, who will take “a fresh approach in marketing the airport.”
LAWA officials attribute the loss of passengers at Ontario Airport to the recession, the slow economic recovery of the Inland Empire, as well as changes in the airline industry that focus on building service at large hub airports at the expense of medium hub airports such as Ontario Airport. Los Angeles officials report that since taking over ownership and operation of Ontario Airport in 1967, LAWA has expanded the 485 acres Ontario Airport was situated on in 1967 to approximately 1,700 acres today, and has invested over half a billion dollars in improvements.
In recent weeks, the cities of Riverside, Jurupa Valley, Corona, Moreno Valley, Canyon Lake, Apple Valley, Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, Walnut, Industry, Laguna Niguel, Diamond Bar, Victorville, Claremont, Chino Hills, Temecula and Lake Elsinore have endorsed the concept of Los Angeles returning control and ownership of Ontario Airport to Ontario.
At its January 23 meeting, the Los Angeles World Airports Board of Directors endorsed a resolution to delay the transfer or sale or Ontario Airport for at least two years. On January 24, however, Los Angeles councilmen Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl called for a study of how to return LA/Ontario International Airport to Ontario and asked for a report on the airport’s fair market value and the possibility of a sale. Their motion was not voted upon by the full council but instead referred to the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee.
Estimates of the value of the airport range from $560 million to over $1 billion. Some Los Angeles officials have indicated that the city would be willing to let go of the airport for as little as $450 million.
Ontario city officials insist that the approximately $550 million which Los Angeles officials claim to have invested in Ontario Airport did not consist of taxpayer money but rather operating revenue generated at the airport along with federal grant money. Ontario has privately offered to pay Los Angeles $50 million in cash, assume $75 million in bonded indebtedness at the airport and provide up to $125 million to Los Angeles from future revenue to be generated at the airport in the way of passenger facility charges, pending the airport achieving certain passenger traffic levels.