Ontario Completes Airport Panel With Riverside Mayor, OC Business Leader

(September 7)  The city of Ontario has reached east, south and west to fill out the last two remaining positions on the board for the Ontario International Airport Authority.
The city, which in cooperation with the county of San Bernardino formed the joint powers authority as part of an effort to wrest back from the city of Los Angeles ownership and control of Ontario Airport, nominated both Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge and Orange County Business Council chief executive officer Lucy Dunn to the five-member Ontario International Airport Authority’s governing board.
Loveridge and Dunn join Ontario councilmen Alan Wapner and Jim Bowman and San Bernrardino County Fourth District Supervisor Gary Ovitt on the panel.
Ontario Airport, which began operations at its current location in 1929, was languishing under the direction of the city of Ontario in the 1960s. After signing on with Los Angeles, its fortunes turned around and the airport advanced and prospered under the management of the city of Los Angeles.
In 1966, just under 200,000 passengers transited through Ontario Airport. In 1967 the city of Ontario transferred management of the airport to the city of Los Angeles and its department of airports, 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. Whereas previously, only two carriers had utilized Ontario Airport, Lost Angeles lured, induced or inveigled over a dozen airlines to utilize the Ontario facility and by 1969 ridership their increased dramatically. Under Los Angeles’s direction, over $550 million in improvements were made to the airport and in 1985 the city of Ontario deeded the airport to Los Angeles for no consideration. In 2007, use of the airport peaked, with 7.2 million passenger enplaning or deplaning in Ontario.
But over the last five years, the number of passengers flying into and out of Ontario has dwindled 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 its division of airports, 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 has purposefully 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. That effort, which included videos, and a push to have legislation passed in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. to mandate what is referred to as local control of the airport, has angered Los Angeles World Airport officials, who maintain that the drop in passenger traffic through Ontario is a function of the sputtering economy and the doldrums in the airline industry generally.
Ontario pushed ahead with the formation of the Ontario International Airport Authority, insisting that local control of the aerodrome will serve to overcome policy and managerial decisions formulated in Los Angeles over the last several years that have contributed to the shrinkage of what is considered a key element of the inland region’s economy.
Loveridge was chosen in some measure because of his past support for Ontario’s effort to regain ownership and control of the airport. While Loveridge is not seeking reelection as Riverside mayor in November, indications are that he will remain on the airport board after he leaves elected office.
Reached by the Sentinel, Loveridge said, “I feel honored to be invited to participate as a member of the board. Ontario Airport is important to the region and certainly important to western Riverside County. There is a consensus that there is a need for local control. The current passenger levels at Ontario Airport are unacceptable. My understanding is the levels are down to what they were in 1983. We hope to change the trajectory of what is happening at Ontario and take steps to move in a much better direction.”
The choice of Dunn to some seemed curious, given her commitment to the advancement of Orange County’s economy. John Wayne Airport there has been cited as a major draw away from Ontario Airport and is perceived as a competing entity for passengers in the expansive Southern California metropolitan area.
She could not be reached for comment.
Ontario officials have publicly suggested that Los Angeles should simply deed the airport back to Ontario as a public benefit transfer, maintaining that the airport had no value as marketable real estate. Quietly, however, the city of Ontario made a confidential offer to purchase the airport for $50 million and an assumption of all debt related to financing for improvements that had been made to the airport.
Los Angeles officials have indicated they are not prepared to simply surrender their autonomy over the airport and they believe the aerodrome and its assets to be worth in excess of $450 million.

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