Southern California region fights for local control of airport to boost economy

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

L.A./Ontario International Airport saw 4.5 million departures and arrivals combined in 2011, compared to 7.2 million in 2007.
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A battle over the L.A./Ontario International Airport has begun. On one side is Los Angeles World Airports. On the other side: the newly formed Ontario International Airport Authority. 

The prize? Control over the airport. 

Currently, LAWA manages the airport, but more than 100 local governments, organizations and prominent officials in the Inland Empire want control of the airport. The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors recently voted to form the new government agency, should the city of L.A. give up control.

The joint powers authority will be made up of the City of Ontario and the County of San Bernardino. The five-member board would look at plans to generate revenue and drive down operating costs that drove airlines and passengers away.

 “It’s going to be a fight and it’s going to be a good one. It’s about time the Inland Empire fought back,” said Dr. John Husing, chief economist at the Inland Empire Economic Partnership.

There are many reasons why leaders in the Inland Empire want control, mainly to boost the area’s economy.

Dr. Husing recently conducted a study on the economic impact of the airport. Ontario International’s passenger volume has dropped significantly over the years and “is headed to its 1986 level of passenger traffic with a 41.2 percent decline from its peak in 2007,” said Dr. Husing.

LAWA blames the dramatic downfall on the sluggish economy, but Dr. Husing doubts that is true.

“Since 1986, this region added 2.3 million people. Even with the recession, we added 585,017 jobs, that’s a 102 percent uptick at the same time the airport was declining. It doesn’t make sense. So it has nothing to do with the economy it has to do with gross mismanagement,” Dr. Husing said.

Here’s more from the study:

  • Ticket prices are 18.1 percent higher than LAX prices, causing passenger traffic to decline. That’s $128 million dollars lost (using Southwest prices)
  • A scarcity of non-stop flights from Ontario costs the airport an estimated $17.5 million

“This operation is so far out of line with every single policy of Southern California and the Inland Empire. It is completely indefensible,” said Dr. Husing. “That’s why it’s really important to get control out of the hands of LAWA. Creating this authority needed to be done sooner or later. It just positions the region to be ready to take over control.”

Interesting enough, LAWA didn’t always have control over the Ontario Airport. It was privately owned by Lockhead Corporation from 1940 to 1978.

California Forward’s Senior Fiscal Advisor, Fred Silva said Ontario Airport appears to be following in the same path as Burbank Airport.

“Burbank used to be privately owned and Lockhead Corporation didn’t want it anymore,” said Silva. “So the cities of Burbank, Pasadena and Glendale formed a joint powers entity. Having the LAWA own the Ontario Airport makes no sense. What makes sense is to have the airport regionally controlled.”

Los Angeles is reviewing the offer and is expected to issue a report analyzing the proposal in September.

“Will L.A. give up control? Well, here’s the problem: financing,” said Silva. “L.A. invested a lot of money into the airport. So we’ll see.”


Cheryl Getuiza

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