Liset Marquez, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Created: 09/17/2012 04:55:56 PM PDT

The average household income in the Inland Empire – not the economy, or rising jet fuel costs – has been the main challenge in attracting new service to LA/Ontario International Airport, according to research provided by a consultant for Los Angeles World Airports.

Consultant Edward Shellshell-White found that airlines tend to provide more service to areas with higher household median incomes, where they can make a short-term return.

“This is the underlying root cause for the challenges at Ontario,” Shellshell-White said.

The report, which was released Monday at Los Angeles World Airport’s Board of Airport Commissioners’s meeting, discussed a variety of items, including why airlines are not in favor of a proposed incentive plan.

For nearly 30 minutes, ONT manager Jess Romo, Steve Martin, chief operating officers at LAWA, and Shellshell-White addressed the board. The meeting comes after a presentation in May by the consultant was highly criticized by the board for trying to convert the area to a high-service facility.

When comparing ONT’s primary service areas and capture rates for Southern California airports – a 15 mile service area – the Inland Empire facility has a higher percentage rate of retaining passengers.

But ONT’s service area has a smaller amount of target households – which attract airlines to do business.

Since 2008, which is when ONT began losing passengers, airlines have shifted the way they operate and will only add flights they know will result in revenue increases.

“The risks (airlines) would tolerate back then is not the risks they would tolerate today,” Romo said.

For years, LAWA officials have grappled with how to drive more flights to ONT.

Based on the new information, LAWA Commissioner Fernando Torres-Gil asked whether the agency could expand Ontario’s service area to include the San Gabriel Valley.

Currently, that region is served more by Los Angeles International Airport, Torres-Gil said.

If LAWA is successful in attracting travelers to ONT, it could tap into an additional 1.5 million passengers.

By Nov. 5, Shellshell-White said he expects to provide the board with a survey – which was conducted two weeks ago – to get a better understanding of what would attract a target customer to the airport.

Airlines, however, were not receptive to the idea of an incentive plan at ONT because it is not a long-term solution.

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