No Traction Yet At Ontario Airport With Airlines After Los Angeles’ Departure

In the aftermath of the city of Los Angeles’s decision to return ownership and control of Ontario International Airport to local authorities, there have been three developments with regard to the fortune of the facility.
In an unforeseen blow to those who were looking at an early significant turnaround of the contraction that has been ongoing at the airport for seven years, Jet Blue, the low-cost airline that ceased flying out of Ontario in September 2008, airline announced it would make its return to the Inland Empire not at Ontario, but at Palm Springs International Airport.
Beginning this week, Jet Blue began taking reservation for flights running from Palm Springs to New York City on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sunday and Mondays beginning on January 14, 2016. Jet Blue has committed to keeping that schedule, which is to involve non-stop red-eye flights departing at 11:49 p.m. and arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 7:43 a.m. Eastern time, through May 1. Inbound flights to Palm Springs from JFK will leave New York on the same day at 7:45 p.m. Eastern time and arrive in Palm Springs at 10:56 p.m. Pacific time.
Jet Blue will use its Airbus A320 aircraft, with a typical cruising speed of 640 miles per hour-to-650 miles per hour, for the flights. Introductory fares are to begin at $99.
Jet Blue was founded in 1999 as a low-cost airline. Ontario was JetBlue’s original West Coast city, with the first flight from JFK touching down on July 21, 2000. JetBlue flies 32 million passengers to 90 cities in the U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America. It currently has flights to eight cities in California, including Long Beach Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, and San Diego International Airport in Southern California.
There was hope among Ontario officials that the airline might be persuaded to return to Ontario, but the company’s choice to resume inland California flights out of Palm Springs presages a different scenario.
Also this week, it was announced that the Ontario International Airport Authority will carry out an executive search to find a manager to assume operational responsibility of the airport from Los Angeles World Airports, the corporate entity which manages Los Angeles International Airport, Van Nuys Airport and Ontario International Airport for the city of Los Angeles and its division of airports.
The Ontario International Airport Authority, a joint powers authority which involves the city of Ontario, the county of San Benardino and the county of Riverside but is dominated by the city of Ontario, has earmarked $95,000 which it will pay to Boyden Global Executive Search, a headhunting firm based in Washington, D.C., to find a full-time executive director to oversee the transfer of authority over the airport from Los Angeles World Airports to an executive team overseen by the authority and the city of Ontario. The new executive suite will be charge with expanding the airport, as well.
The authority’s decision to hire Boyden, which is headed by managing partner Timothy Connor McNamara, to conduct the search pretty much ends the likelihood that Ontario will maintain a working relationship with Los Angeles World Airports for the operation and management of the aerodrome.
Under Los Angeles’s guidance following the formation of a joint powers authority between Los Angeles and Ontario in 1967, the airport grew immensely, with fewer than 200,000 passengers passing through its gates in 1967 and 7.2 million departing from or arriving there in 2007, following the construction or application of more than $500 million worth of improvements over four decades. But ridership at the airport dropped off drastically beginning with the economic downturn in late 2007 and Ontario officials blamed Los Angeles, its political leadership and the management within Los Angeles World Airports for the decline, asserting that Los Angeles officials were deliberately mismanaging Ontario Airport while completing upgrades at Los Angeles International Airport that boosted passenger traffic there. Ultimately, Ontario in 2013 launched a lawsuit against Los Angeles aimed at wresting control of the airport back from the megalopolis. For two years, Ontario escalated the war of words with the bigger city, engaging in pointed and insulting rhetorical flourishes that painted Los Angeles officials as greedy exploiters hell bent on destroying the Inland Empire’s economy. Just weeks before the trial on the case was set to begin, Los Angeles, in a display of magnanimity, agreed to return the airport to Ontario/the Ontario International Airport Authority, with little further ado beyond having Ontario pick up responsibility for the bonded indebtedness at the airport, and reimbursing Los Angeles for money generated at Los Angeles International Airport that was used for improvements in Ontario along with Los Angeles-owned equipment necessary to the operation of Ontario Airport that must remain there. That $260 million deal is well below the $450 million to $600 million it was estimated private investors would have been willing to pay Los Angeles for the airport. After Los Angeles thus left at least $190 million on the table in agreeing to return the airport to Ontario, there were grounds to believe the vituperation between the two cities would be set aside and Ontario would see the usefulness of having Los Angeles, with its global reach, continuing to operate and manage the airport.
It now appears, however, that Ontario, which has no division devoted to the airport and virtually no experience in running a municipal airport operation let alone an international facility, will be going it alone – or virtually alone – in taking on the monumental task of managing the airport on a day-to-day basis. The Ontario International Airport Authority does count as one of its members the county of San Bernardino, which does have a department of airports, but the largest airport that entity operates is the Chino Airport. Moreover, the county has been involved in the effort to convert the former Norton Air Force Base, through the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, into a going aeronautical operation. But that undertaking has been an unmitigated debacle, with the expenditure of more than $140 million toward the construction of an ultra modern terminal and concourse, and no airlines agreeing to use facility.
Los Angeles World Airports has immediate entrée with the more than 70 airlines worldwide which fly into and out of Los Angeles International Airport. Ontario officials lack that access to the different airlines’ corporate officials.
One of the reasons Ontario International Airport Authority board members chose Boyden was because of McNamara’s track record in a similar search, that for an executive director in for San Diego’s Lindbergh Field as it left the control of the San Diego Port Authority to be overseen by a newly created Airport Authority in 2003.
Meanwhile, on August 27, Jess Romo, the airport manager for Ontario International Airport employed by Los Angeles World Airports, announced that “Passenger traffic at Ontario International Airport was up 1.45 percent in July. Ontario International Airport airlines served 367,458 travelers compared to 362,220 travelers in July 2014. It’s a good summer season as we continue to see passenger activity in positive territory.”

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