This article first appeared in CaliforniaCityNews, reprinted with permission.
In 1967, the City of Ontario entered into a Joint Powers Agreement with the City of Los Angeles for management and development of the Ontario Airport (ONT). In 1985, title of the airport was transferred as the Ontario Airport continued to grow and create economic opportunity for the Southern California region. However, things have changed radically over the past four years. Los Angeles City officials must take action now to prevent the closure of Ontario Airport and empower the City of Ontario and Southern California to rebuild this vital economic engine through the transfer of the Airport to local control.
Los Angeles is the only city in the United States that operates an airport outside of its jurisdiction and ONT continues to be the only airport in the region that is not under local control. Ontario Airport is located almost 60 miles away from LAX in San Bernardino County and is therefore not a priority for most Los Angeles City officials as reflected in the continued decline of Ontario Airport.
While all other airports in the region have recovered from the economic downturn or are heading in that direction, Ontario Airport has lost 37% of its passenger traffic and airline forecasts show a continued decline each month until September 2012 (final month in forecast). In March 2012, passenger traffic at ONT fell 8.5%. At this rate, Ontario Airport is forecasted to end 2012 with about 4.1 million annual passengers; fewer passengers than the Airport served when the property was transferred from the City of Ontario to Los Angeles in 1985.
The neglect of Ontario Airport has resulted in a loss of 9,250 jobs and $500 million dollars annually. Domestic departures are down by 56% and destinations offered have decreased from 32 to 14. Due to this decrease, it is estimated that 2 million people from Ontario Airport’s service area bypassed Ontario Airport in 2011 and traveled to LAX; increasing LA traffic by an additional 1.3 million car trips annually. In addition to all the economic benefits of transferring Ontario Airport to local control, our plan would immediately remove 1.3 million cars from the heavily congested Los Angeles freeway system and LAX access routes.
So why have so many airlines and flights ceased operating at Ontario Airport? A major reason is Ontario Airport continues to be one of the most expensive medium-size airports in the nation. The cost per enplaned passenger (CPE) at Ontario Airport exceeds all other airports in the region including LAX. Airlines have a choice of plane placement and the high costs at ONT destroy airline profit margins and force the airlines to reposition their aircraft at less expensive airports. ONT’s current CPE is $13.50, while LAX is $11.23, John Wayne is $9.24, Long Beach is $6.64, and Burbank is $2.09. How can we expect the airlines to stay at Ontario Airport?
The City of Ontario is unwilling to stand on the sidelines and watch the most important economic driver in the Inland Empire deteriorate. The Ontario City Council gave the City Manager direction to obtain local control of the Airport “by any means necessary.” The City Manager then launched the “Set ONTario Free” campaign to educate the public and key stake holders about the urgent need to transfer control from Los Angeles to the City of Ontario. To inform other cities and agencies about the campaign and solicit support, USB jump drives (which included all support documentation) were sent to Mayors and City Managers across Southern California. A Facebook, Twitter, Youtube channel and web page at http://www.setontariofree.com/ were established in addition to a massive public education effort.
On March 21, 2012, the City released a campaign commercial featuring Tommy Lasorda at Ontario’s Annual State of the City. In the words of the San Bernardino Sun, “If only LAWA had conducted such an effective PR campaign showcasing the benefits of flying in and out of ONT, this battle for control of the airport might not have had to take place. But quite the opposite is true.”
The City of Ontario has received over 70 formal endorsements including numerous cities, SCAG, the LA Times Editorial Board, and congressional leaders. This list continues to grow. Thanks to mounting media and public support, the LA City Council introduced and unanimously passed motion #12-0123 directing LA’s City Administrative Officer (CAO) to begin analyzing the City of Ontario’s proposal for local control. On March 20, 2012, the Los Angeles City Council, Trade, Commerce and Tourism (TCT) Committee reiterated City Council direction to the LA CAO giving him 90 days to review our offer and make a final recommendation to the Los Angeles City Council.
We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to all our supporters and all the agencies and community organizations that have formally endorsed our commitment to local control. A complete list of endorsements can be found at our campaign website at http://www.setontariofree.com/ along with the full Tommy Lasorda commercial and news developments. We also have an active Facebook following engaged in local control discussions at http://www.facebook.com/SetONTarioFree.
If your City or organization believes in regionalization and local control, please consider adopting a formal resolution or creating a letter of support. Feel free to contact us for assistance or additional information at 909-395-2010 or via e-mail: SetOntarioFree@ci.ontario.ca.us.
Together with our many Southern California partners, we will be able to regain local control of Ontario Airport and restore the region’s most valuable economic engine and job creator. Set ONTario Free!
Alan Wapner is an Ontario City Council Member.