County Joins With Ontario In Formation Of Airport Joint Powers Authority

(August 31)  As was anticipated, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on August 28 approved joining with the city of Ontario in the formation of a joint powers authority intended to take on control, management and eventual ownership of Ontario International Airport.
A week previously, on August 21, the Ontario City Council voted to enter into a joint powers arrangement with the county pertaining to the airport and involve other local governments. At that time, Ontario appointed councilmen Alan Wapner and Jim Bowman to serve as the city’s representatives on the airport joint powers authority board. This week, in acceding to the cooperative effort, the board of supervisors designated supervisor Gary Ovitt, a former mayor of Ontario in whose Fourth Supervisorial District the airport is located, as the county representative on the JPA board. That board will consist of five members.
The unstated but clear intention of the newly created agency is to wrest ownership and control over the airport back from the city of Los Angeles and its adjunct, Los Angeles World Airports, which oversees the Los Angeles Department of Airports.
In 1967 the city of Ontario transferred management of the airport to the city of Los Angeles and its airport division, a ploy which allowed the entity that owned and controlled Los Angeles International Airport to use its prestige and greater negotiating leverage to convince airlines to fly into and out of Ontario. In 1985, Ontario deeded the airport to the megalopolis for no consideration. Under Los Angeles’s direction, over $550 million in improvements were made to the airport, and passenger traffic there increased dramatically from just under 200,000 in 1966 to 7.2 million in 2007. But over the last five years, the numbers of those flying in and out of Ontario have diminished considerably, with 4.2 million passengers in 2011, and further declines are registering this year.
Ontario officials blame Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports, the non-profit entity Los Angeles created to own, maintain, administer and operate Los Angeles International Airport, Van Nuys Airport, Burbank Airport, Palmdale Airport and Ontario International, for the downturn in passenger traffic through Ontario in recent years. The once-cordial relationship between Ontario and Los Angeles has suffered as Ontario officials maintain that Los Angeles through Los Angeles World Airports is purposefully mismanaging Ontario International as part of an effort to bolster the Los Angeles economy, and that the effort includes having increased enplaned passenger costs at Ontario and diminished marketing of the airport as a ploy to increase passenger traffic at Los Angeles International Airport, even as the airline industry in general has been contracting. Led by councilman Alan Wapner, Ontario officials have been pushing ever more aggressively to have Los Angeles relinquish the airport, maintaining that the entirety of the Inland Empire has seen its economy negatively impacted as a result of the loss of passengers transiting through Ontario Airport.
Los Angeles World Airports, known by the acronym LAWA, charges the airlines at Ontario International $14.50 per enplaned passenger, which is substantially more than the $11, $9.93, $5.34, $4.07 and $2.10 charged at Los Angeles International, John Wayne, Long Beach, Palm Springs and Burbank airports, respectively. Currently at Ontario, airlines are paying $144.11 per square foot for terminal space. That is up from the $134.39 they were charged in 2011, but less than the $154.63 charged in 2010.
Earlier this month, LAWA’s Jess Romo, who serves as the Ontario Airport manager, unveiled an incentive plan including the lowering of rental rates at Ontario Airport to encourage airlines to increase flight operations there. Romo said the rental discounts being offered to the airlines currently operating there or ones contemplating coming in to the aerodrome were significant, making Ontario competitive with all of the airports in the region. Ontario officials were not placated by that proposal, however, and pushed forward with the creation of the joint powers authority.
Current county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux, who was Ontario city manager when Ovitt was Ontario mayor, told the board of supervisors in a report dated August 28 that the formation of the joint powers agreement with Ontario would “provide overall direction in the maintenance, management, development, and marketing of Ontario International Airport for the benefit of the citizens of San Bernardino County, and the economic development of the Inland Empire Region.
“The Ontario International Airport (ONT) is a vital economic asset to the county of San Bernardino, the city of Ontario, the Inland Empire, and the regional air transportation system that serves Southern California,” Devereaux continued. “The successful operation of ONT results in positive economic impacts to area manufacturers, logistics companies, and creates employment for area residents and enhanced business opportunities for entities engaged in or dependent upon aviation-oriented activities. The Ontario International Airport Authority will be governed by a five-member commission consisting of elected officials and community and business leaders from the airport’s vast air service region. Two members will be from the Ontario City Council, one member will be the county supervisor representing the supervisorial district in which ONT is located, and two will be prominent community members residing within ONT’s air service market which includes seven million residents in a four-county region, including Los Angeles.”

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