LA & Ontario Sign Airport Transfer Pact

The Los Angeles City Council this week signed off on a $250 million settlement agreement with the City of Ontario providing for the transfer of ownership of Ontario International Airport to the Ontario International Airport Authority. The ink on the document certifying the willingness on the part of the megalopolis to make the landmark transfer was barely dry when the Ontario International Airport Authority gave its needed final approval of the agreement on Thursday afternoon.
Both the LA City Council and the airport authority took their respective actions during closed sessions.
“I have long supported this transfer of ownership, and I am proud of the collaboration that delivered these results,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “I’d like to thank City Council President Herb Wesson for his leadership on this issue, as well as Trade, Commerce and Technology Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield, and Councilmember Mike Bonin, who authored the motion for this agreement.”
The transfer comes 48 years after a joint powers agreement in 1967 between the cities of Ontario and Los Angeles entrusted management of the airport to the larger city, thirty years after Ontario deeded the facility to Los Angeles and five years after Ontario initiated an increasingly acrimonious campaign to wrest ownership back from Los Angeles. That campaign included the filing of a lawsuit against Los Angeles and the corporate entity – Los Angeles World
Airports – it uses to run Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario International Airport and Van Nuys Airport. That lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial in Riverside Superior Court last summer but was averted by Los Angeles’ signal just before that trial began that it was amenable to surrendering control of the airport to Ontario in the guise of a deal entrusting it to the Ontario International Airport Authority, which was created by Ontario and has as its board members representatives from San Bernardino County and the City of Riverside, but which is otherwise dominated by Ontario.
In 1967, fewer than 200,000 passengers passed through Ontario Airport’s gates. At that point it had a flea infested gravel parking lot. Los Angeles, with its control over gate positions at Los Angeles International Airport, used that leverage to induce more airlines to land at and depart from Ontario. In relatively short order ridership at Ontario Airport increased dramatically.
All told, Los Angeles instituted some $550 million worth of improvements to the airport, including paving its parking lot, laying down a second and entirely new east-to-west runway over its obsolete northeast-to-southwest landing strip, and modernizing its existing east-to-west runway, including the widening of taxiways and the addition of storm drains. Ontario Airport’s landing and take-off paths were converted into the longest such civilian facility in Southern California, and Los Angeles erected a state-of-the-art control tower, and constructed two ultra-modern terminals at a cost of $270 million, augmented with a world class concourse. In 2007, 7.2 million passengers came through Ontario Airport, a 3600 percent increase over what Ontario had been able to achieve on its own 40 years before.
But ridership at Ontario Airport dipped significantly after that, leading to Ontario officials charging that Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports were purposefully mismanaging the aerodrome, considered to be a key element of the Inland Empire’s economy.
Los Angeles and Ontario put those differences behind them by virtue of the agreement accepted by both this week, under which Ontario will pay $30 million from its reserves, take over the airport’s $60 million debt and make payments of $50 million over five years and $70 million in the final five years of a ten-year transition. .
“The agreement ensures uninterrupted operations at Ontario International Airport by providing the 191 Los Angeles World Airports employees with key employee protections and stability during the transition,” said Deborah Flint, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports. “My staff is committed to working closely and cooperatively with the City of Ontario and the airport authority to allow for a smooth transfer.”

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