Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 03/22/2011 04:05:51 PM PDT

LOS ANGELES – Despite her doubts about a timely transfer of LA/Ontario International Airport, Gina Marie Lindsey is optimistic about its future growth in passengers.

Speaking to the Board of Airport Commissioners on Monday, Lindsey, LAWA’s executive director, predicted a better year for the struggling airport, which hasn’t seen traffic levels so low since the 1980s.

Traffic has stabilized at ONT, with the medium size hub losing only 1percent in traffic for 2010, which Lindsey said can be attributed to Aeromexico pulling out of the airport. The airline has since restored flights at ONT.

Yearly air traffic figures for 2010 show ONT lost 1.19 percent of traffic from 2009. Last year, 4.8million travelers passed through ONT, a slight decrease from the 4.86million travelers in 2009.

“We still need to find as many ways as possible to make that airport more viable,” Lindsey said.

On Monday, Lindsey stunned Ontario city officials when she told the commissioners that a transfer of control, because of its complexities, could take years.

For more than a year, Ontario officials have been pushing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAWA – which manages ONT – to either transfer control of ONT or amend the Joint Powers Agreement between the two cities.

Ontario officials see the cause of the passenger decline differently.

For months, Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner has been critical of LAWA’s management of the airport.

Among the concerns he has raised is the pressing need to transfer management before the lack of traffic forces ONT’s closure.

“There must be a sense of urgency at LAWA just as there has been and is at Ontario,” he said.

It’s a scenario that Lindsey does not agree with. At Monday’s meeting she told the board that ONT has at least 13,000 passengers a day, which is more traffic than Long Beach International Airport and Burbank.

“(ONT) still a very viable, operating airport serving a lot of people,” Lindsey said.

But passenger traffic at LA/Ontario International Airport has declined by 33percent since 2007, when it had 7.2million passengers.

ONT’s situation is not unique, Lindsey said. Of the 36 medium-size airports in the nation, 29 have shown passenger decline, she said. The decline of passengers at the airports ranges between 12percent and 35percent, Lindsey said.

In the state, San Jose International Airport has seen a 22.6percent drop and Oakland has experienced a 30percent decline.

Commissioner Fernando Torres-Gil commended LAWA and ONT staff for making cost reductions.

“The bottom line is it is not about costs, it’s just economical recession,” he said. “It’s the economical recession that has been the culprit, not the management.”

Commissioners requested that LAWA staff provide them with a report comparing ONT traffic in the last year to other airports in the Southern California region.

To read entire story, click here.