By Liset Márquez Staff Writer
Created: 08/04/2011 06:16:06 PM PDT

ONTARIO – As passenger volumes at L.A./Ontario International Airport continue to dip, officials are not optimistic there will be a turnaround in the near future.

For the first six months of this year, passenger traffic was down 3.3 percent from the previous year, a drop of nearly 80,000 passengers.

In all, 2.2 million passengers have traveled through the airport this year.

What has one official concerned is the drastic drop in passenger traffic for June. After months of small decreases, June traffic at ONT dropped 11 percent from the number of passengers through the facility in June 2010.

“There’s no such thing as hitting the bottom. Until you have airlines continue to pull out airplanes, until you’re at zero flights, you haven’t hit the bottom,” said Mark Thorpe, director of air service marketing for Los Angeles World Airports.

Bad news continues

Based on the number of flights that have been pulled out in July, Thorpe said he anticipates that downward trend in passenger traffic to continue anywhere between 6percent to 9 percent.

Those figures are not expected to be officially released by LAWA until the end of August.

August figures will probably show another decline by at least 5 percent, Thorpe said.

If the trend continues, Thorpe said ONT could draw between 4.4 million and 4.5 million passengers this year.

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

Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner is more alarmed by the traffic figures released for Los Angeles International Airport, another facility operated by LAWA.

While ONT lost 11 percent, LAX saw a 6.5 percent gain in passenger traffic for June, Wapner said.

“There is a direct correlation between ONT’s drop and LAX’s increase,” he said.

If LAWA officials don’t try bucking the downward trend, Wapner said he is concerned the airport will close in a couple of years.

The councilman disagrees with Thorpe’s estimation of how many people will travel at ONT this year.

Wapner contends only about 4 million people will use the struggling airport this year.

“There’s no way the airport can sustain itself with 4 million passengers when it was built for 12 million passengers,” he said.

The role of airlines

Since 2007, the peak of travel at ONT, the facility has lost more than 40 percent of its seat capacity, Thorpe said. Seat capacity is a measure of the number of planes flown at the airport and the airline seats that are available.

While the economy has been the leading cause for much of that decline, in recent months, another factor has come into play, Thorpe said.

Southwest, the biggest operator at ONT, has reduced a significant number of flights out of the airport since last June, he said.

From 2007 through this July, the airport lost 106 weekly flights from Southwest alone, Thorpe said.

“With the decline in traffic at Ontario it is almost a one-to-one ratio in loss,” Thorpe said about seating capacity and passenger traffic.

“You get to a point where there is not as many options for daily departures, and it becomes clear if you lose a seat, you lose a passenger.”

Weekly departures for Southwest in June 2007 was 372, dropping to the present 266, he said.

And there isn’t any relief in the near future. Southwest Airlines has announced it would be cutting two more routes beginning in January, said Brett Snyder, who runs the blog www.crankyflier.com.

And while Southwest has bought the airliner AirTran, it has not replaced the fleets it has removed from ONT, Snyder said.

While Southwest is one of the leading factors for the drastic decline in passenger traffic, it is not the only one, Thorpe said.

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