Friday, January 09, 2015

EDITORIAL: Time to resolve airport dispute • Ontario International Airport ( KONT), California

A rational, adult resolution to the conflict over the Ontario International Airport can’t come soon enough. The bitter back-and-forth over ownership of the airport has been marred by petty insults, a lawsuit and political posturing.

The airport has been owned by the city of Los Angeles since 1985 and is operated by Los Angeles World Airports. LAWA, a department of the city of Los Angeles, also operates Los Angeles International and the Van Nuys airport. Officials in Ontario have accused LAWA of putting too little effort into managing ONT in order to drive greater utilization of LAX.

A report presented this week by Al Boling, interim executive director of Ontario International Airport Authority, found that the decline in air service at ONT has cost the regional economy $2.6 billion since 2010. Though airport passenger counts rose 4.1 percent in 2014 over the previous year, passenger counts are down more than 40 percent since 2007.

Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge Gloria Connor Trask is expected to issue a ruling on the pending lawsuit filed by the city of Ontario. The city is attempting to terminate the existing joint-powers agreement over the airport on the grounds that Los Angeles hasn’t put in enough effort to sustain traffic at ONT.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013, which followed a few years of on-and-off efforts by the city to negotiate with Los Angeles over a potential purchase of the airport.

Ontario officials believe they can do a better job of managing the airport. The Press-Enterprise has noted that city officials “believe that with local control, they can begin to revive the airport through cost-cutting, airline incentives, better marketing and other measures.”

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has repeatedly indicated his support for negotiating a resolution to the issue.

“We understand LAX is critical, but we’re also looking creatively to our friends in the Inland Empire and the eastern part of Los Angeles County to see what we can do to transfer Ontario to local ownership,” Mr. Garcetti said last September at a southern California infrastructure conference.

While such statements have suggested that a rational resolution to the conflict is possible, that potential has failed to be realized.

LAWA officials, for their part, haven’t helped move things along. LAWA executive director Gina Marie Lindsey has reportedly described suggestions to share air traffic with regional airports as a “silly waste of time” and “a politically driven mantra to appease LAX neighbors.”

LAWA executive Stephen Martin, for his part, disparaged the Inland Empire as “inbred.”

Both cities ought to come to the negotiating table and resolve this issue. It is likely that the city of Ontario could better manage and promote an airport in their community, as they have far more incentive to do so than the city of Los Angeles.


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