Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 03/01/2011 08:33:04 PM PST

LOS ANGELES – Several national and international firms have expressed interest in managing L.A./Ontario International Airport.

Officials at Los Angeles World Airports, which operates ONT, received 10 inquiries since the submission process opened Jan. 4 for “expressions of interest.”

The city of Ontario did not participate.

Ontario officials have asked LAWA to turn over management of the sluggish airport to the city.

“The information received from the EOI respondents is valuable to us as we discern ONT’s future operations,” said Mike Molina, LAWA deputy executive director for external affairs. “While the city of Ontario did not submit an EOI, we continue to work with city officials in the possible transfer of airport management.”

Gathering submissions does not guarantee that LAWA’s management will begin the process of selecting ONT’s future manager, LAWA spokeswoman Nancy Castles said.

The purpose of the EOI was to inform LAWA on how best to proceed with ONT, Molina said.

“All options will be reviewed thoroughly before we bring a recommendation to our Board of Airport Commissioners,” he said.

The expressions of interest packets asked parties how they might:

# Return ONT to pre-2008 passenger traffic trends and increase the airport’s share of air traffic in the Los Angeles region.

# Effectively market ONT to airlines, passengers and air-cargo companies.

# Operate ONT more efficiently.

Despite being affected by the economic slowdown, ONT is important to LAWA, said Gina Marie Lindsay, LAWA’s executive director.

Lindsey called the EOI responses encouraging and served as an indication that “ONT is a key asset for the city of Los Angeles.”

A recommendation to the Board of Airport Commissioners is expected in the upcoming weeks, Castles said.

Ontario officials contend they do not need to get involved in the process, citing their involvement in the 40-year Joint Powers Agreement between Ontario and Los Angeles.

In a letter submitted Friday to LAWA officials, Ontario City Manager Chris Hughes said he expects city officials to continue to conduct separate negotiations with LAWA for the transfer of local control “rather than participate in the EOI process.”

Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner, the city’s liaison with the airport, criticized LAWA’s announcement.

“What’s disconcerting is LAWA releasing the press release to the public before they informed us,” Wapner said.

The councilman said he had no idea there were 10 inquiries until Tuesday, when LAWA officials made the news public.

As part of the EOI process, prospective operators were expected to contact the city of Ontario, but city officials only heard from four interested parties, Wapner said.

The operators that did not contact the city should be considered non-responsive, he said.

In his letter to LAWA, Hughes requested transparency in the process.

“We request that LAWA staff present the results of the EOI process along with an agreement to immediately return Ontario Airport to local control to the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners for prompt consideration and action,” Hughes wrote in the letter. “Any further exploration of potential benefits from the private sector can be conducted by the city of Ontario.”

Wapner said he also believes the “expressions of interests” process is not necessary.

“According to the JPA, it doesn’t allow for a third party operator,” he said.

Wapner said he doesn’t view the move as a cost-savings venture for ONT. If a third party operator is involved, it is likely that the entity would be compensated for managing the airport, he said.

For more than a year, Ontario officials have said local control would better address the downward trend in air traffic at ONT.

More recently, Ontario officials have been in negotiations with the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office as well as LAWA.

Last November, Ontario officials submitted a proposal for the city to regain control of the airport.

The city had not heard a response to its proposal from LAWA until Tuesday, Wapner said.

The city is still reviewing the response. Wapner declined to provide any details on Tuesday.

“The fact that it took three months to respond is concerning to me,” he said.

Wapner said he would prefer that all three entities as well as Ontario officials meet to discuss all their concerns and issues.

Local control is necessary, given the airport’s struggles in recent years, Wapner said.

For the past two years, passenger traffic at ONT has fallen more than 47 percent.

LAWA reported the airport served 4.88 million travelers in 2009, down from a peak of 7.2 million passengers in 2007.

A Fitch Ratings released in February found weekly departures at the airport dropped to 487 in January from a peak of 918 in June 2007.

LAWA officials have said part of the airport’s decline was tied to economic woes.

But Wapner said the airport continues to lose air traffic while other airports – such as Los Angeles International Airport – have seen some gains.

To read entire story, click here.