Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/29/2012 03:51:39 PM PDT
Updated: 09/29/2012 06:05:26 PM PDT

Airlines across the nation are still adjusting to a tumultuous four-year period in the aviation industry that has forced many to adopt a new business model, according to an aviation industry performance report released by the Department of Transportation.

The report looked at a time frame almost identical to L.A./Ontario International Airport’s period of decline, from 2008 to 2011.

In it, the inspector general has found that rising fuel costs have complicated efforts to keep ticket costs low and as a result airlines have had to reduce their flights and increase their fares.

The national trend is what airlines have been doing at ONT.

The findings contradict comments made by Inland Empire economist John Husing, who on Thursday, while addressing a congressional panel about ONT, said mismanagement was at fault.

Husing pointed to figures that showed a rise in population and jobs is enough to be able to sustain increased growth at ONT.

In the report, rising fuel costs are one of the contributing factors to the airlines’ financial woes.

In 2001, fuel only accounted for 10 percent of an airline’s costs.

In 2011, that figure jumped to 35 percent.

“Ultimately, the trends presented in this report suggest that the changes in the number of airlines controlling the industry, fare increases, and capacity reductions that began in 2008 are not a brief phase, but rather are signs of a greater shift in the industry that will remain for years to come,” Calvin L. Scovel III, Department of Transportation inspector general, said in the report.

Mary Grady, spokeswoman for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates ONT, Los Angeles International Airport and the Van Nuys airport, said its agency has taken significant strides to reduce the overall operating budget in an effort to make it affordable for airlines to do business.

LAWA officials have said all along that the 42 percent decline at ONT since 2007 is a reflection of the shift in the way airlines do business.

Airlines are retreating from smaller hub facilities like ONT.

ONT saw about 4.2 million passengers in 2011, figures not seen since the late 1980s. It’s a drastic drop from the peak traffic of 7.2 million in 2007.

“Regardless of who owns ONT, and right now it is LAWA, we feel an obligation to operate it as efficiently and effectively as possible while doing all we can to improve the situation,” Grady said.

In his testimony to the House subcommittee, Husing said Inland Empire residents have to fly out of LAX, which has resulted in a $48 million annual burden in extra costs – parking costs and the time lost commuting.

But Grady sees it differently.

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