Customers are few at ticket counters inside Terminal 4 at Ontario International Airport.

BY KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
STAFF WRITER
kpierceall@pe.com

Published: 21 November 2011 09:44 PM

Two Inland congressmen, fed up with the increasingly empty terminals at Ontario International Airport, on Monday asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for help.

Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, and Ken Calvert, R-Corona, sent a letter Monday to LaHood and a second one to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asking for them to improve Ontario’s worsening condition. The city of Los Angeles has owned Ontario airport since 1967.

“Without action, we are precariously close to losing the airport, a vital component to the economic health of San Bernardino and Riverside counties,” the congressmen wrote to LaHood.

Passenger traffic has fallen by a third in the past four years to fewer than 5 million annual passengers, a level unseen since 1988. In 1998, twin terminals were built with the expectation they would hold 10 million passengers annually.

The city’s Los Angeles World Airports agency owns and operates LAX, Ontario and Van Nuys airports.

“It is now past time to begin consideration of whether LAWA should continue to manage three separate airports. The ability to effectively support, promote, and market multiple airports in a fair manner would be difficult even in the healthiest of economies,” the two wrote to Villaraigosa.

Lewis went further in a separate news release, saying it was time that the airport is placed under local control, either the city of Ontario or an Inland airport authority.

“We need aggressive management now that will work for the improvement of Ontario, and not have to worry if more flights in one location might result in fewer somewhere else,” Lewis said in the statement.

In an emailed statement attributed to Gina Marie Lindsey, LAWA’s executive director, the agency’s leader attributed Ontario’s decline to the economy.

“We empathize with the congressmen’s concerns,” Lindsey said. “LAWA does not regulate where planes fly, and when the economy falters, airlines restrict their flights and schedules to locations where they can make the most profit. Accordingly, secondary airports and communities are disproportionately impacted. At the request of Ontario city leaders, LAWA has made significant progress in reducing its operating costs while continuing to aggressively market the airport to attract more air carriers.”

A chorus of Inland officials have called for the city of Los Angeles to cede control of the Inland destination to a local authority, pointing to the severe drops in the number of passengers using the airport and the number of flights offered. Neither decline appears to be letting up. In September, passenger traffic was down 5 percent compared to a year ago while traffic was up 6 percent at LAX.

For two years, Ontario leaders have been seeking to regain control of the airport, which they say the city of Los Angeles has neglected in favor of LAX.

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