City of Ontario Buys Ontario Airport from LAX’s Parent Company After Long Negotiations

Mary Jane Coppock • The Student Life

At Ontario International Airport (ONT), security lines are practically nonexistent. And, despite its smaller size, ONT is a familiar step on many a student’s journey home and back to campus, the more convenient alternative to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

For the last thirty years, ONT has been under the ownership of the city of Los Angeles via Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), a city agency that also owns and
operates LAX and the Van Nuys Airport. In August, however, a settlement was completed to transfer ownership of ONT to the city of Ontario, which hopes to revive the flailing airport by offering more flights and eventually attracting more people to use ONT.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the move “has been endorsed by more than 130 cities, county governments, state and local elected officials, regional planning agencies and aviation-related citizens' groups in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.”

According to the L.A. Times, the city of Ontario sued the city of Los Angeles for the ownership of ONT in 2013 on the basis that LAWA had mismanaged the airport, citing the decline in annual passengers from 7.2 million in 2007 to 4.2 million in 2012. The lawsuit specifically sought to alter or retract the terms of the agreement, which transferred operation of ONT to the city of Los Angeles in 1967 and full ownership to Los Angeles in 1985.

The number of flights in and out of ONT has declined in recent years, despite the hope that LAWA would expand flights regionally. Once the ownership deal is completed, the city of Ontario hopes to promote ONT as a viable travel hub and magnet for airlines. However, transferring ownership back to the city of Ontario could take up to a year to complete, as the city and LAWA are still in the negotiation process.

According to a Q&A document on the ONT website, LAWA invested $510 million in various ONT facilities and “placed its focus on investing and developing capacity at ONT before any major capital improvements were made to LAX.”

The document also blames the drop in flights between 2007 and 2012 on the failing economy and the discontinuation of a local startup airline, Express Jet. According to the document, 2014 marked the first uptick in traffic since 2007 with a “reasonably healthy increase of nearly 4% compared to 2013.”

In recent years, the city of Ontario has repeatedly attempted to regain ownership of the airport, but their attempts have been thwarted by disputes over the airport’s value. According to the L.A. Times, consultants for the city of Los Angeles estimated the airport’s value at $243 to $605 million, and offered ONT to the city of Ontario for $475 million. Ontario contested that the airport actually had a negative value due to the drop in flights, citing a study that concluded ONT was only worth $140 million as a result of declining traffic under LAWA ownership.

Matthew Reade PO ’18, who has frequently given students rides to ONT, among other airports, commented that ONT is a very popular choice for flights, especially flights along the West Coast.

“A plurality of Pomona students hail from California,” said Reade. “Ontario works really well for them. I think Ontario might attract more passengers if it offered some long-distance flights which serviced our East Coast crowd at Pomona, but it's such a small airport that this proposition makes little sense.”

Reade also noted that although Southwest Airlines flights make up the backbone of ONT’s business, even those flights seem to be decreasing.

“Over the past year, the airport looks like it has become less crowded, an observation which has been borne out by the actual numbers,” Reade said. 

Lawrie Mankoff SC ’19 noted the convenience of flying to and from ONT.

“The airport is very close to campus and easy to get to. The prices can be very low for flights to San Francisco if you book early. The only problem I've had is that there are no departure or arrival screens for United flights,” Mankoff said.

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