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The battle brewing in Los Angeles over control of Ontario Airport

May 08, 2013 7:34 am

Skift Take

The quality of county management in southern California leaves much to be desired. Giving control to the Inland Empire may inject a bit of competition, or it could just give a new group of people the opportunity to mis-manage matters.

— Jason Clampet

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Los Angeles airport commissioners took additional steps Tuesday to halt a dramatic decline in passengers at LA/Ontario International Airport, including potential cost reductions for airlines and incentives that might encourage them to add service.

Inland Empire officials, who are trying to wrest control of Ontario from Los Angeles, immediately criticized the measures, saying that they were too little and too late to lure flights back to what used to be one of the fastest-growing regional airports in the nation.

The commission unanimously approved a marketing program to reimburse carriers for half of what they spend to advertise and promote new and existing flights that serve Ontario. Qualifying airlines would be eligible to receive up to $150,000.

Commissioners also passed two measures designed to lower expenses for carriers to operate at Ontario, which has some of the highest costs for airlines in the nation for a mid-sized airport.

They include an incentive plan to lower terminal rents and fees, and hiring a private company to handle custodial duties and the maintenance of baggage systems, security screening areas and passenger boarding bridges.

Airport officials estimate that the contract for those services will generate almost $550,000 in new revenue for the airport over five years and reduce the number of airport employees, a move that will help Ontario cut next year’s budget by more than $6.6 million, a savings that could be passed on to airlines.

“I like what we are doing here. I hope it will catch on and we can do more of it,” commission President Michael Lawson said. “Hopefully, this will get the airlines to do what we have wanted them to do — increase traffic at Ontario.”

Since 2007, the number of passengers at the airport has fallen from 7.2 million to 4.2 million or about 40%. Projections indicate that the level could fall below 4 million this year, although the operator, Los Angeles World Airports, has already reduced airline costs and met repeatedly with carriers to encourage them to restore service.

Inland Empire officials said the airlines do not support the incentive plan because it could give a carrier an unfair advantage over its competitors. They also asserted that carriers, contrary to what Los Angeles World Airports says, might avoid the marketing program, fearing that it could increase their costs. The plan will be funded from the rent and fees that airlines pay.

The officials further noted that the Los Angeles commission acted only after it was threatened with a lawsuit charging that not enough has been done to make Ontario a thriving alternative to Los Angeles International Airport.

Roy Goldberg, an attorney for the city of Ontario, called the proposals “superficial measures designed for their perceived public relations impact and defense of the Ontario claim.”

Los Angeles officials have steadfastly contended that the economic downturn forced carriers to cut service at Ontario and relocate flights to larger hubs with better markets, such as LAX.

(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times. Distributed by MCT Information Services. 

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