New LAWA Head Heralds Possible Thaw In LA/Ontario Relations

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has nominated Deborah Ale Flint, the aviation director for the Port of Oakland who is the chief executive at Oakland Airport, to lead Los Angeles World Airports.
Los Angeles World Airports is the public corporation acting on behalf of the Los Angeles Department of Airports, which oversees Los Angeles International, Ontario International and Van Nuys airports.
Flint will replace Gina Marie Lindsey, the outgoing executive director of Los Angeles World Airports.
During the last five years of her stewardship of Los Angeles World Airports, Lindsey had become the focus of much of the city of Ontario’s discontent with the city of Los Angeles over the manner in which Ontario International Airport has been managed and operated.
Lindsey’s departure comes at a critical juncture in the relationship between the city of Los Angeles and the city of Ontario.
Ontario International Airport has been under the control of Los Angeles for more than 47 years. In 1967, when Ontario Airport yet had a gravel parking lot and fewer than 200,000 passengers passing through its gates annually, the Ontario City Council ratified a joint operating agreement with the city of Los Angeles to permit the larger city to use its stronger negotiating position with the airlines serving Southern California to induce them to utilize the Ontario facility. Using the leverage it possessed by virtue of its control of gate positions at Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles persuaded a whole host of airlines to begin flying into and out of Ontario, transforming the former backwater air field into a world class aerodrome, eliminating one of its obsolete runways, improving its existing east-west runway and constructing another, and providing the facility with an ultra-modern concourse and two new terminals. After all of the performance criteria in the original joint operating agreement were achieved, in 1985 the city of Ontario deeded the airport to the city of Los Angeles for no consideration. During the more than two-decades after that transition, the airport continued to prosper, with ridership rising to an all-time record 7.2 million in 2007.
That same year, on June 4, 2007, Lindsey, who had decades of experience in airport management and a record of success in renovating and improving international airports, including with Seattle-Tacoma Airport, was appointed Los Angeles World Airports executive director.
Lindsey’s arrival coincided with two sets of events that ultimately fueled the souring of relations between the cities of Los Angeles and Ontario with regard to Ontario International Airport. The first of these was Lindsey’s push to step up the modernization of Los Angeles International Airport, which would ultimately lead, at least in part, to soaring passenger numbers there. The second event was the massive economic downturn that transitioned into a lingering national, statewide and regional recession that perpetuated itself for nearly seven years. Airlines, in an effort to shield themselves from the continuing economic decline, began cutting back on flights, particularly to locations outside heavy population centers. Beginning in 2008 and until mid-2014, passenger traffic at Ontario International declined steadily. This led to a deterioration in the working relationship between Los Angeles and Ontario. In 2010, Ontario officials, led by city councilman Alan Wapner, initiated a campaign aimed at wresting control and ownership of Ontario International Airport back from Los Angeles. Los Angeles officials, including most prominently Lindsey, at first ignored and then began to resist that effort, which grew increasingly strident and uncivil. Ontario officials, with Wapner in the lead, began to openly charge that Lindsey had evinced hostility toward the city of Ontario and its airport, and was deliberately managing, or mismanaging, Ontario International operations to raise costs and minimize both revenues and ridership there as part of a plot to increase revenue and gate numbers at Los Angeles International Airport. Lindsey and her staff denied those accusations, pointing out that the airlines were being pushed by their own economic imperatives. In 2013, in the waning days of Anthony Villaraigosa’s tenure as Los Angeles mayor, the city of Ontario, through the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, sued Los Angeles in the neutral forum of Riverside Superior Court, charging Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports with willful mismanagement of Ontario Airport and seeking the return of the aerodrome to the city in which it is located.
That lawsuit is yet pending in Riverside Superior Court, where major portions of it have been dismissed. For their part, Los Angeles officials at all levels, from the city council through to the management ranks at Los Angeles International Airport, have been offended by the vitriol and tenor of Ontario’s campaign. It is unclear whether Lindsey’s departure came at her own initiative or was imposed upon her by the political leadership on the Los Angeles City Council and the airport board. Her leaving has presented the cities of Los Angeles and Ontario with an opportunity to undertake a reconciliation, one that calls for similar statesmanlike action on both sides.
In this way, Flint exists as the fulcrum upon which the interests of the megalopolis to the west and the smaller city to the east might be balanced.
Flint has served as the director of aviation in Oakland since 2010. As of press time, her appointment needed to be confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council. She brings to the table experience in facilitating a regional approach to transportation issues, which included a public transit rail connection serving all of the East Bay with a terminus at Oakland International Airport.
As of 2012, she became a member of the Aviation Consumer Protection Committee, which advises the Department of Transportation on the rights of air travel passengers. She holds a bachelor’s degree from San Jose State University.

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