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By: Agnes Ramos

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Friday, 8-Jun-2012 13:11 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Set Ontario Free

Revived Ontario Airport Would Ease Lawsuit Settlement Concerns Ontario California Airport is owned and managed by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA,) a department of Los Angeles city government. In 2005, LAWA undertook planning for renovation and a major expansion of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX.) This expansion alarmed residents in
neighboring communities, who had long been concerned about noise, environmental and traffic issues related to current LAX usage. To protect themselves, lawsuits were filed, and a settlement was reached in 2006.

As part of this settlement, LAWA committed itself to increasing utilization of other regional airports. According to the agreement, LAWA was specifically required to create a strategic plan to increase passenger and cargo traffic at the other two airports they controlled. Both Palmdale Regional Airport and Ontario International Airport were to be the beneficiaries of increased marketing and planning efforts. Annual updates to the plan were also required. In theory, by diverting air traffic to the smaller airports, congestion, noise and traffic would be lessened in the vicinity of LAX.

How have the two smaller LAWA-managed airports fared under the settlement? Palmdale Regional Airport was closed in 2008. Ontario International Airport has lost 35% of their passengers since 2007. Marketing funds have been deeply slashed or completely eliminated. Meanwhile, passenger counts at LAX have risen from 69.6% to 74.1% of all passengers in the regional market.

The city of Ontario believes it can do a better job than LAWA at managing the Inland Empire regional airport. Unlike all the other airports in the greater Los Angeles region, Ontario California Airport is not bound by noise restrictions and limits on passenger counts. Public sentiment in the Inland Empire is overwhelmingly in favor of growth at the
airport. This is the exact opposite of the situation surrounding LAX, where residents continue to be wary of their noisy neighbor.

After years of inaction on the part of LAWA, Ontario has proposed that control and ownership of Ontario Airport be transferred back to them. Local plans to refurbish the airport include reduction in airline fees, tighter control of labor and operating costs, development of unused portions of airport property and increased marketing of the facility
to airlines and passengers.

Local control advocates are quick to point out that they have a vested interest in the success of Ontario International Airport. By assisting Ontario to grow, congestion at LAX would be eased. This, in turn would alleviate concerns of LAX’s neighbors.

Friday, 8-Jun-2012 13:06 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Set Ontario Free

Labor Costs Contribute to Ontario Airport Decline in Use In 1967 the city of Ontario entered into a joint agreement with the predecessor of Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) to manage the Ontario Ca Airport. This partnership worked so well for both parties that in 1985 LAWA assumed ownership of the airport.

Until the last several years, Ontario continued to grow in use, reaching a peak of 7.2 million. Since 2007, however, Ontario International has lost a third of those passengers. This downturn in passenger count has been disastrous for the Inland Empire economy.

The continued downward trend has spurred the city of Ontario to seek repossession of the airport. The city argues that local officials would take a more hands-on approach to the management of the airport. Currently, all decisions affecting Ontario Airport originate with LAWA, a division of the city of Los Angeles government.

These decisions often do not take into account local conditions in the Inland Empire. Currently, Los Angeles prevailing wage rules apply to airport employees, even though average wages are lower in the Ontario region. LAWA also determines staffing levels for the airport. In some cases employees at the struggling airport have nothing to do.

Labor costs are among the reasons that Ontario has a $14.50 per passenger user fee, which is the highest of any airport in the region. In fact, Ontario International has one of the highest fees in the nation. These fees, which are added on to airline fares by carriers, make ticket prices much higher than comparable routes at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX.)

The high fees airlines must pay have an adverse impact on airlines’ willingness to use the airport. Reduced carriers, routes and schedules force passengers to travel to other regional airports, particularly LAX, in order to obtain desired flights at reasonable prices. This downward spiral has continued since 2007, resulting in the present state of affairs.

Local control advocates, including several U.S. and State legislators, believe a locally owned and operated airport would be successful in lowering fees and luring back air traffic. Local management would allow more control of labor costs, since wages could be adjusted to local market rates. Employee staffing and scheduling could also be more easily adjusted to meet current demand.

Ontario Airport has one part-time manager, who is the sole representative of LAWA at Ontario. By returning Ontario Ca Airport to its original owner, the airport can once more grow and prosper.

Friday, 8-Jun-2012 13:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Set Ontario Free Effort Gains Support

The Set Ontario Free project defines an effort by the city of Ontario to regain control of the Ontario Airport from the city of Los Angeles. The effort is support by more than 200 California cities, transportation commissions, and counties. A Native American representative sits on the Southern California Association of Governments, which also supports changing control of the airport.

Los Angeles took over operations of the Ontario Airport in 1967 through a Joint Powers Agreement signed by both cities. The contract stipulated L.A. would pay $58.3 million to cover outstanding debt from airport bonds and the cost of land Ontario was purchasing for expansion at the time. Los Angeles officials also promised to invest $20 in the airport over the next 10 years as part of the agreement. L.A. took ownership of the Ontario Airport in 1985.

Proponents of the Set Ontario Free campaign claim L.A. never invested money in the airport from city funds as promised. Instead, L.A. imposed a passenger fee on each ticket to pay for improvements at Ontario’s public airport. Elected officials and citizens in favor of the project also allege poor management and marketing of the smaller airport in the region known as the Inland Empire.

A survey of passenger figures shows the number of people using the airport in Ontario fell by almost 37 percent between 2005 and 2011. Last year, 4.6 million passengers used the airport, down from 7.2 million in 2007. This decrease led to the layoff of more than 9,000 employees. The impact of fewer passengers hurt an already struggling economy in San Bernadino County where the airport is located, according to backers of the initiative.

Ontario City Councilmembers propose paying the city of Los Angeles $75 million to cover debt obligations and to divert $125 million from passenger fees to the L.A. International Airport. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told a local newspaper he wants to wait until the Southern California economy improves before giving up control of the smaller facility. He attributes the fall in passenger numbers to an overall economic downturn.

In the meantime, Ontario city officials are waiting for a report detailing how much the airport is worth and the recommended process to transfer ownership back to the city. The report should be complete by June. Fair market value of the facility might be difficult to determine because California law states the airport must remain a public facility and the land cannot be used for other purposes. Backers of the Set Ontario Free effort say fair market value is not an issue because the city of Los Angeles did not buy the airport from Ontario but simply paid off outstanding bond debt.


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