Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
Most of us are well aware that there is an intense debate over the control of the Ontaio Airport which is currently owned by Los Angeles World Airports. The center of discussion is the fact that services to/from ONT have been in a steep decline ever since the recession. Other airports have seen a turnaround, but ONT continues to dwindle. The current operator, LAWA, is a department under the City of Los Angeles which also owns and operates LAX and the Van Nuys Airport. Inland Empire officials have been demanding that LA turn over operations so that the airport has local control and thus better services.
Comparing ONT and LAX passenger boarding stats
The service decline can be directly attributed to a rapid decline in airline ridership at the airport. ONT passenger departure counts have taken a major hit since the height of the recession and have failed to recover. According to LAWA's passenger count stats, ONT departed 3,067,671 passengers in 1992. By 2000, the airport was departing just over 3.2 million passengers. In 2007, ONT grew to 3.6 million annual departing passengers.
Then came the recession and by 2011, passenger boarding dropped to just under 2.3 million passengers. As the economy began to turn around, ONT's numbers should have reflected that with improving ridership. But the stats continue to show a decline. In 2013, the LA/Ontario Airport clocked in at only 1,985,594 passenger departures, down over 1 million from 1992 despite the fact that the Inland Empire went through a rapid growth spurt between the 90's and early 2000's.
To compare, LAX departed 25.8 million passengers in 1994, 33.8 million in 2000, 31.2 million in 2007, 28.3 million in 2008 which was LAX's low point during the recession, and 33.3 million in 2013 which by the way nearly matches the year 2000 count. That adds up to a daily average of about 90,410 passengers coming into LAX every single day. Can you imagine if some of those passengers had the option to catch their flights from an airport closer to home? West LA's awful traffic congestion would be significantly reduced instantly.
Getting ONT's ridership numbers up to par should be the goal
You would think that LA officials would do whatever it can to get ONT's numbers up so that fewer cars would clog the I-10 and I-405 in the West LA area, but LAWA's efforts have yielded very little results. In fact, fixing this problem has become a problem in of itself with the continued property negotiations between the local Southland government bodies and the expensive legal proceedings taking place in court. Now, the federal government is beginning to put some pressure on the local entities. Michael Huerta, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration told the Daily Bulletin last week that the FAA cannot intervene directly but would like both sides to come to a quick resolution.
The quick resolution should boil down to this: The Ontario Airport needs better travel options and better incentives so that airlines will stop their planes there. Inland passengers who live far from LAX needing to take a flight to any major destination in the USA or the world should not have to travel all the way to LAX given the presence of ONT, an international airline facility here at home. And if the City of Los Angeles needs to sell and transfer the airport to a local entity in order to make that happen, that's what should happen.
A regional manager living in Fontana needing to attend an important corporate meeting in Chicago should have the option of using ONT and not have to travel all the way to West LA to catch a flight. Likewise, a family from Corona headed to Miami for Thanksgiving should only have to travel to Ontario to catch the holiday non-stop flight to Florida. Airlines need to be incentivized to land at ONT simply with fair, cost-efficient, and business-friendly usage policies. Add to that the fact that highway transportation corridors in and out of West Los Angeles is extremely congested. Offering additional flights from the other airports including ONT would offset a significant amount of traffic demand through West LA in an eyeblink. Same for the 91 freeway corridor to Irvine and John Wayne Airport. Again, the citizens of the Inland Empire who rely on air travel should not have to travel all the way to LAX, San Diego, Orange County, or Palm Springs to catch such flights.
LAWA's track record of bad ridership at ONT clearly shows that policy changes need to take place to improve airline services at ONT which would tremendously shorten airport trip times, stimulate the Inland economy, and provide some relief to our clogged Southland's freeway system. If changing operators from LA to a more local unit is necessary for that to happen, that's what should happen.