Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 01/29/2011 07:07:43 AM PST

ONTARIO – Officials here are questioning whether the LA/Ontario International – which employs 296 people – is overstaffed.

Last week, Los Angeles World Airports confirmed an undisclosed number of civilian traffic officers at ONT would be transferred in February to Los Angeles International Airport as a cost-saving measure.

According to a LAWA official, 16 traffic officers will be transferred, which could result in a savings of up to $994,000.

Safety officers are paid anywhere between $59,000 and $49,000 a year.

By Feb. 27, ONT will be down to 278 employees.

A report released by Ontario late last year cited staffing and the compensations that come along with those employees as some of the factors for the airport’s financial woes.

Ontario’s current compensation budget when it was staffing 302 employees was $30.9 million, an average of $102,400 per employee.

The report also notes that the number of workers at ONT is twice that of John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, where 175 workers handle 56 percent more passengers annually.

“It seems fairly large for anything that size. The number is similar to what San Diego has, which is much bigger,” said Brett Snyder, author of CrankyFlier.com, who has been following the issue at ONT for more than a year.

A straight comparison of staffing levels is difficult because outsource levels differ from airport to airport, Snyder said.

ONT outsources less of their departments.

Airports typically outsource janitorial services, but it is all kept in-house at ONT.

With lower-wage jobs such as janitorial services on the payroll, Snyder said he thought the average salary would have been lower.

“How is that possible?” Snyder said.

LAWA officials have acknowledged the high employment figures. Additionally, ONT’s workforce was slashed from 425 employees in 2008 to 302 IN 2010.

“We’ve made the effort to reduce the head count,” said Mark Thorpe, director of the Air Service Marketing Division of ONT.

LAWA has moved frozen positions and staff to LAX as well as Van Nuys Airport.

Last year, in another move that seemed to save LAWA money, ONT’s general manager was assigned to also oversee Van Nuys Airport.

Councilman Alan Wapner, who has been pushing for changes at ONT, commended LAWA for the move.

But more needs to be done, Wapner said.

“Instead of laying off employees, several years ago, they shifted employees to ONT and that’s how we ended up with 450,” Wapner said.

The shuffling of employees occurred several years ago when LAX was losing air traffic, about the same time ONT was picking up in travelers, he said.

The need for the high employee count was for regional reasons, Thorpe said.

“In our defense we operate as a diversion airport for LAX and John Wayne Airport,” he said.

For John Wayne, ONT would assist with any flights that need to land past curfew at the Orange County airport.

As for LAX, Ontario had to be prepared and properly staffed for when it was fogged and flights at the major airport came to ONT.

“We’ve made great efforts to reduce staff and will continue to,” Thorpe said.

Long Beach Airport, which has some 3 million annual passengers, had 124 employees budgeted for this year.

Mario Rodriguez, Long Beach Airport’s director, said the amount that is actually employed is a leaner 93 people.

To read entire story, click here.