Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants L.A. to work with Ontario on ONT airport. But is that enough?

Can better communication between Ontario and Los Angeles leaders save L.A./Ontario International Airport? Staff file photo.

Can better communication between Ontario and Los Angeles leaders save L.A./Ontario International Airport? Staff file photo.

On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Los Angeles to play nice with Ontario on the issue of L.A./Ontario International Airport. But does the letter she sent to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti make any sense?

“I am writing to request your involvement and ultimately your leadership to restore Ontario International Airport (“ONT”) to economic health,” the first paragraph of the letter reads. “I have heard deep concerns from many business and community leaders that the decline of ONT traffic will have a long lasting, negative regional impact on the Inland Empire.  I urge you to reach out to Inland Empire leaders to develop a cooperative strategy to address the challenges at the airport.”

Feinstein doesn’t take a stand on the recent lawsuit filed by Ontario, which seeks to wrest control of the airport from Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which has operated the facility since 1967. As long as L.A. continues operating the airport, she only wants the sides to work together better to attract new air service.

But can any amount of working together reverse the fortunes at the airport, which has lost more than 40 percent of its passenger traffic since 2007? Not really, says Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based consultant. Boyd says airlines simply do not like the economics of Ontario’s airport and claims it is not a high-yielding area. (I know that’s a sentiment not shared by some of my readers, but please hear Boyd out.)

“Ontario’s decline is not because of LAWA,” Boyd told me. “LAWA does not have that much power. It has everything to do with the fact that air service is not growing. And that part of the L.A. basin isn’t growing …. Name me one airline that wants to go there? There aren’t any that want to add more service. It’s just economic reality.”

Boyd said he expects consultants are telling Ontario officials otherwise, that the airport can grow and attract new service. But he said is skeptical.

“There will be consultants that will tell them that,” Boyd said. “But the question is what airlines are you looking for? Delta has been and gone to Atlanta. Southwest has been there but they are not expanding. Alaska is going into other types of markets like San Diego and Salt Lake. Unfortunately, too many communities get mislead into thinking they … can get more service.”

Boyd is not alone in his sentiments. Earlier this year, I wrote a story about Ontario airport in which I quoted airline executives as saying the city needed to be realistic in what kind of flights it could attract.  Bob Cortelyou, senior vice president for network planning at Delta, talked about Delta’s failed flight to Atlanta.

“Sometimes you come out of Ontario versus Los Angeles, there is very little corporate travel,” he said. “The yields tend to be lower. You look at the gas prices these days and a long flight from Ontario to Atlanta just becomes uneconomic for us to fly.”

Here’s Feinstein’s letter to Garcetti:

December 18, 2013

 

The Honorable Eric Garcetti

Mayor, City of Los Angeles

City Hall

200 North Spring Street, Room 300

Los Angeles, California  90012

Dear Mayor Garcetti:

I am writing to request your involvement and ultimately your leadership to restore Ontario International Airport (“ONT”) to economic health.  I have heard deep concerns from many business and community leaders that the decline of ONT traffic will have a long lasting, negative regional impact on the Inland Empire.  I urge you to reach out to Inland Empire leaders to develop a cooperative strategy to address the challenges at the airport.

Inland Empire Mayors, County Supervisors, and community leaders have approached me and my staff expressing their deep concern over economic growth in the area. The region has been greatly affected by the economic downturn, and unemployment remains around 11 percent.  Many Inland Empire leaders inform me that they are eager to work with you to restore ONT as a successful transportation hub and economic driver for the region.

As I am sure you are aware, ONT continues to struggle – gates are shutting down, concessions are leaving, and jobs are being lost.  Between 2007 and 2012, ONT lost 49 percent of its flights, the largest drop of any airport in California, while average fares have risen 17 percent since 2010.  To cover costs, per passenger fees are among the highest in the nation.

Many airports across the Nation and in California have made significant progress in their recovery since the recession.  Airports with similar challenges to Ontario have worked with local business leaders, transit agencies, and governments to put plans together to improve transportation access, reach out to new carriers, waive fees and offer other incentives to attract international service, and market the strengths of their facilities.

Recently initiated marketing and fee waiver incentive programs modeled on the successful efforts of other airports appear to be bearing fruit at ONT.  Service expansions at ONT by United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, AeroMexico, and Volaris demonstrate that ONT traffic can be restored.

I am optimistic that cooperation between you and Inland Empire leaders will turn around ONT.  I urge you to exhaust all options and to sit down with leaders in Ontario and the County of San Bernardino to bring Ontario Airport back to economic vitality.

Thank you for your time and consideration to this matter.  Please know you can count on me and my staff to help in any way we can.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein

United States Senator

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  • Jerry Good

    LAWA will get serious about ONT right after UPS completely absorbs them for the world’s largest freight hub. They have been choking ONT for years. Why should they change direction at this time?