10:00 PM PDT on Friday, August 6, 2010
Helping Ontario International Airport regain flights it has lost since 2008 isn’t top-priority for Los Angeles officials. But LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa isn’t interested in selling the airport to Ontario either.
LA officials may offload responsibility for running the airport to some third party (a private company or maybe the city of Ontario).
But they want to keep the airport in the city’s real estate portfolio.
That’s a big disappointment. Ontario recently put out feelers to see if LA might let the city take back the airport, which has lost 30 percent of passengers in the past two years.
The rejection of Ontario’s overture was a slap in the face for Inland residents delivered at Monday’s LA airport commission meeting.
A second was news that passenger volumes at Ontario won’t return to pre-2008 levels for 30 years!
A third shocker: ONT’s per-passenger costs are the highest of SoCal airports.
Airlines pay $16 per passenger at ONT, compared to $10 at John Wayne in Orange County. To cut per-passenger costs to $10, ONT’s annual airport budget would have to be cut at least $10 million, an airport agency spokeswoman told me.
Reducing those costs probably isn’t a cure-all for ONT, anyway. The recession put airlines in “survival mode,” said Alan Bender, professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
They’re pulling back at mid-size airports (like ONT) and staying with nearby major airports (like LAX) where passengers can pick up connecting flights, he said.
Some mid-size airports have bucked the trend: Midway in Chicago, Baltimore Washington International near D.C. and Long Beach, Bender said. But others, like Ontario and Oakland, suffer in the shadows of LAX and San Francisco.
Former Ontario city manager Greg Devereaux, who put out feelers to LA officials on taking over ONT, said the consultant’s report didn’t get at the heart of the problem: overstaffing, high labor costs and the 15 percent administrative overhead levied by the airport agency.
An outside operator could cut those costs if relieved of LA’s cost structure, Devereaux said, adding that the airport agency may be breaching its fiduciary duty by neglecting ONT.
Spokeswoman Nancy Castles couldn’t tell me how much the airport agency has spent to attract airlines to ONT but said it’s in the millions of dollars.
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