BY KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
STAFF WRITER
kpierceall@pe.com

Published: 03 December 2011 10:37 AM

There are a third fewer travelers using Ontario International Airport since 2007 and there’s bound to be even fewer passengers using the airport in the coming months based on schedules that show how many flights and seats the airport’s airlines are offering through July.

Southwest Airlines for one, which carries more than half of all of departing and landing travelers at Ontario, had 37 fewer flights in November versus a year ago and as a result, about 4,109 fewer seats to sell, according to statistics from research firm UBM Aviation Worldwide Ltd.

At least 150 fewer flights will be offered at the airport some months.

Local politicians have seen something sinister in the airport’s shrinking traffic, with Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, and Ken Calvert, R-Corona, most recently imploring the U.S. Transportation Secretary to help save the airport owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles.

Officials with the city of Ontario have spent two years blaming the airport’s bleeding on the airport’s owner saying LA has neglected the Inland destination in favor of its other airport, LAX, making it more costly for airlines to do business there and not spending any money on marketing. The city of Los Angeles and airline industry experts have countered saying Ontario’s costs may be high but the decline is economically motivated with airlines hunting for profits at larger hubs.

Whatever the reason for the declines, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight to Ontario’s passenger losses.

Every month, from November of this year through July, the airport’s airlines expect to offer fewer seats for travelers compared to a year ago based on airline schedule statistics for each month, according to UBM’s data.

This month, there will be 7,650 fewer seats for travelers, in January the number will drop 13,526 and in February the number will shrink by 8,685 compared to a year ago. In March there will be 25,056 fewer seats for travelers than there were in March 2011. The largest drop off comes in April with 27,814 fewer seats scheduled to be sold so far.

Airlines continue to crowd around their airports of strength, where they can eke out a profit, said Bill Swelbar, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty member with the university’s International Center for Air Transportation who teaches courses in airline economics and finance.

And if it costs a few more dollars per passenger to do business at one airport than other airports, it could mean the difference between a profitable flight and a money-losing one, he said.

“Every dollar matters,” he said.

For Ontario, being on the higher-end of costs has meant airlines have sent their flights elsewhere nearby at one of the numerous commercial airports that serve Southern California.

“I know that politicians and the like take this very personally,” he said.

Steep losses

The only Southern California airport to see an increase in passengers in the three years since 2007 was Long Beach Airport which grew by just 2.6 percent. John Wayne Airport’s traffic out of Orange County dropped 13.5 percent, Palm Springs dropped 6.9 percent and Burbank dropped 24.1 percent. LAX in that time had 4.2 percent fewer passengers.

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