Ontario International Airport

Los Angeles and Ontario battled for years over ownership of LA/Ontario International Airport. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

By Dan Weikel
August 5, 2015

After years of litigation and contentious negotiations, Los Angeles has agreed to transfer ownership of struggling LA/Ontario International Airport back to the city of Ontario, The Times learned Wednesday.

The deal reverses a 30-year-old acquisition and marks a retreat from the vision of Los Angeles’ airport agency as an ascending, regionwide air travel powerhouse with major branch operations in the Inland Empire and Palmdale.

The high desert airfield, once planned as a sprawling “intercontinental jetport” by L.A. officials, was never completed and was turned over to Palmdale officials two years ago.
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The tentative agreement with Ontario calls for Los Angeles World Airports to be reimbursed for its investments in the facility, job protection for the facility’s 182 employees and the settlement of a lawsuit in which Ontario sought to regain control of the airport.

The Inland Empire city allowed Los Angeles to operate the airport beginning in 1967 and handed over ownership in 1985 on the condition that L.A. officials do their best to attract airlines to the facility.

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After the number of annual passengers dropped from 7.2 million in 2007 to 4.2 million in 2012, Ontario sued, alleging that Los Angeles mismanaged the airport and violated its agreements. L.A. airport officials denied the allegations, blaming the decline on the worst economic recession since World War II.

The lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial Aug. 17 in Riverside County Superior Court.

Returning the airport to Ontario will require approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration and multiple local government agencies, a process that could take a year, sources familiar with the deal said.

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