Liset Márquez, Staff Writer
Created: 12/30/2011 03:05:45 PM PST

ONTARIO – It’s been a tumultuous year for city officials in their quest to take over and operate LA/Ontario International Airport.

For several years, Ontario officials have lobbied for local control, claiming they would be able to convert the medium-hub facility into a competitive regional airport. Los Angeles World Airports operates ONT and Los Angeles International Airport.

City Manager Chris Hughes said the city’s goal for the past year has been to educate the public on the issue and why it’s important to the Inland Empire economy.

“It’s been a year of moving forward,” Hughes said. “We’ve made great progress and will continue to move forward.

ONT has lost a third of its ridership since 2007, when travel there peaked at 7.2 million passengers. In that time frame, passenger traffic has declined at ONT while LAX has gotten busier.

Only 3.7 million passengers had flown through the facility through October this year.

“We’re still concerned LAWA isn’t putting forward the effort to make it a successful airport,” Hughes said.

Earlier this month, an updated economic analysis by the firm of Oliver Wyman found the decline in air service at ONT between 2007 and 2011 has meant a $495 million economic hit to the Inland Empire. The decline at ONT in the past four years has also meant a loss of 9,250 jobs to the region.

It’s a figure that frustrates some city officials.

Councilwoman Debra Dorst-Porada said she shutters to think of the economic loss to the region because of the airport’s decline.

“The airport could have fared better if it was managed better,” Dorst-Porada said.

In the past year, city officials have made several attempts to gain control of ONT:

January:

Overstaffed, ONT officials announced that an undisclosed number of civilian traffic officers from ONT would be transferred in February to LAX as a cost-saving measure. The move became effective Feb. 27. According to a LAWA official, 16 traffic officers were transferred, which resulted in a savings of up to $994,000.

LAWA officials started the process of looking for private interests to possibly contract out the operations of ONT. LAWA accepted submissions through February from the private sector and other interested parties about managing the airport.

The following day, Ontario city officials announced they had given their city manager the option to sue LAWA over violation of the joint powers agreement, the arrangement by which Los Angeles took over the Ontario airport.

February:

State Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, introduced a bill that would authorize transferring control of ONT from the city of Los Angeles to a regional airport authority.

As outlined in the bill, the authority would reduce ONT’s $67 million annual operating budget by streamlining operations and eliminating an $8.7 million administrative fee.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, sent a letter to Los Angeles officials expressing his support for transferring operations and management of ONT to local control.

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