New operator for ONT sought
Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 12/20/2010 10:08:50 PM PST

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles World Airports officials said Monday they will look for private interests to possibly contract out the operation of LA/Ontario International Airport.

LAWA, which operates ONT, will solicit ideas from the private sector and other interested parties about managing the airport, said Stephen Martin, LAWA’s chief operating officer.

The process provides an opportunity to acquire a neutral assessment on alternate methods to manage the airport, Martin said.

“We’re asking without being in the competitive process,” Martin said. “It’s not a commitment to sell.”

Commissioner Michael Lawson said he was not opposed to selling ONT.

“Why aren’t we looking at possibility of selling?” Lawson said.

Ontario officials say local control would better address the litany of problems at ONT and have been pushing to regain control of the ailing airport.

For the past two years, passenger traffic at ONT has fallen more than 47percent. The airport in 2009 served 4.88million travelers, down from a peak of 7.2million passengers in 2007, according to LAWA.

LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey told the Board of Airport Commissioners on Monday that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had made it clear that he has no interest in privatization or selling ONT.

Nonetheless, a 15-page document will ask interested parties questions on several key issues, which Martin referred to as “Hypothetical Terms of Agreement.”

LAWA does not want to relinquish control of ONT for the long term, so LAWA would ask interested parties to agree on a 20- to 30-year term, he said.

The private operator may have to assume all responsibility for paying off bonds used for ONT improvements, Martin said.

How the future operator would address employment at ONT would also have to be discussed. All LAWA employees could reapply for their jobs. Employees who are not hired could be transferred to other LAWA airports, Martin said.

Future development at ONT would be another concern, Martin said.

“Who would be responsible for the vision? It’s a very complicated issue. Who has the ability to say what happens in the long term?” he said.

Ultimately, the commissioners and Los Angeles City Council would have to relinquish some control of the airport, Martin said.

The intention is that 15 years from now, LAWA and Ontario would continue to have “a valuable operating partnership,” Commissioner Fernando Torres-Gil said.

“We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the last 20 to 30 years to make Ontario the state-of-the-art airport,” Torres-Gil said.

When times were good, “we all benefited,” he said.

The sense of frustration and even “desperation” on the part of the city is a reflection of the economy, he said.

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