Liset Márquez, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/27/2012 12:22:55 PM PDT
Updated: 09/27/2012 11:03:32 PM PDT

ONTARIO – An Inland Empire economist says the demise of passenger traffic at L.A./Ontario International Airport in recent years has not been the result of the region’s weakened economy.

John Husing instead blames the airport’s management – Los Angeles World Airports – on what he says has resulted in a 41percent drop at the medium-hub facility since 2007.

It’s a figure the airport has not seen since 1985 and, in that time, the region has added 2.3million people as well as more than half a million jobs, Husing said.

“There is no way it is our economic slowdown that caused this,” said Husing, who pointed to the fact that ONT had seen a steady growth for a number of years before the sudden drop.

“There’s no reason for what happened to have occurred,” he said. “Ontario was handling 8percent of the passenger traffic until the change in management occurred in LAWA. Period.”

Husing made his remarks while addressing the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on Thursday afternoon at Ontario City Hall.

His testimony was met with applause from the more than 100 people in attendance.

The focus of the hearing was to examine the future of ONT, ongoing efforts to turn over management of the Inland Empire airport to local officials as well as discuss its economic importance to the region.

Panelists made a case for a change in airport management as the biggest potential to benefit all stakeholders in the airport’s service area.

For the past three years, Ontario has waged a battle against LAWA – which manages ONT – saying it has not done enough to attract airlines to the facility. Most recently in January, Ontario launched the social media campaign “Set ONTario Free.” The city has budgeted $1.2million for its efforts.

Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, a senior member of the House committee who requested the special hearing, told Husing the meeting was not meant to “beat up on Los Angeles.” He added that he met with Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of LAWA, earlier in the week.

Characterizing it as a positive meeting, Miller said both he and Lindsey agreed something needed to be done to improve conditions at the Ontario airport.

“Transferring control of the airport to the Ontario International Airport Authority will help reverse the precipitous recent decline in passenger traffic and restore Ontario (International) Airport as an economic engine for the region. I will continue to work with the city of Ontario and community and business leaders to ensure that Ontario (International) Airport remains a vital element of the aviation network in Southern California,” he said.

The panel, led by Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., and which included members of the congressional delegation from the region, heard testimony from Husing as well as several politicians and business leaders from throughout Southern California.

For nearly three hours, many of the panelists discussed the future of the airport and how it could rebound from the 38 percent slump in passenger traffic in the past four years.

The solution for many of those testifying was transferring control of ONT to the newly formed multi-jurisdictional agency, the Ontario International Aviation Airport Authority.

Those efforts received a boost when Los Angeles City Administrator Miguel Santana – who was among the speakers on Thursday – released a report last week urging Los Angeles and Ontario officials to enter into negotiations for transfer of operations.

Earlier this week, Santana’s recommendation received the endorsement of a Los Angeles City Council subcommittee. Santana said it will soon go to his City Council for approval. His report, in contrast to Husing’s statements, did not blame LAWA management for the passenger decline at ONT.

To read entire story, click here.