Passengers make their way into one of the terminals at Ontario International Airport, which suffered a 40% decline in travelers during the economic recession. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Dan Weikel
November 1, 2016

After years of litigation and negotiation, Ontario officials assumed ownership of LA/Ontario International Airport from Los Angeles on Tuesday.

They say they hope to turn around the once fast-growing airport, which saw dramatic cuts in airline service and its annual passenger volume plunge from 7.2 million in 2007 to 3.97 million in 2013 during the economic downturn.

The transition from Los Angeles World Airports to the Ontario International Airport Authority became official after the authority paid off $55.5 million in bonds issued by Los Angeles for airport improvements and the Federal Aviation Administration issued an operating certificate to the authority, an independent government agency.

Last year, the number of air travelers rose to 4.2 million, a modest upward trend that has continued this year. The gains, however, lag behind the recoveries of similar airports around the country.

The transfer process began in August 2015, when a lawsuit brought by Ontario to gain control of the faltering airport was settled with Los Angeles.

The case, filed in 2013, alleged that mismanagement by Los Angeles World Airports triggered the facility’s loss of passengers and flights. Los Angeles contended that the severe recession prompted the decline in air travel and created an incentive for airlines to relocate service to major airports like LAX.

In the near future, Ontario officials say they will make improvements to terminals, signage, parking and concessions to enhance the passenger experience. To attract airline services, they plan to cut costs by streamlining operations and eliminating the high administrative fees Los Angeles World Airports used to charge the airport.

The formula could lead to lower fares for travelers, a greater variety of airlines to choose from and more nonstop flights to major destinations. Authority officials said they are already targeting markets on the East Coast and meeting with airlines, including Chinese carriers.

“We will be aggressive on air service development,” said Kelly Fredericks, the authority’s chief executive. “We are looking at a whole host of international and domestic markets, cargo operations as well as charter and private jet operations for business travelers.”

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