Claremont Graduate University will host a conference this afternoon on the future development of the Ontario International Airport (ONT). The airport was recently transferred to the city of Ontario after decades under the control of the city of Los Angeles, which also runs LAX and Van Nuys airports.
The conference was spearheaded by Claremont McKenna College professor of government Kenneth Miller, who proposed the conference years ago as a project for Inland Empire Center for Economics and Public Policy, a CMC-based joint venture between the Rose Institute and Lowe Institute that trains students in analyzing local government and business affairs.
Miller, who is not a member of the Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA), said he planned the conference because ONT is “of critical importance to the region.” The conference’s timing coincides with ONT’s transition to Ontario’s control from Los Angeles as well as the appointment of the OIAA CEO: Kelly J. Fredericks, who will assume the position the week after the conference.
Miller said that the city of Los Angeles' management resulted in a declining number of flights and raised fares for ONT. The conference will discuss how ONT can regain business and rectify the perceived problems it faced under LAX control. The conference will feature a keynote presentation by Fredericks, followed by two panels: one will discuss the airport’s operations with representatives from Southwest Airlines and UPS; the other will discuss economic development, with speakers from two campuses from the University of California system (Riverside and Irvine), among other organizations.
According to Alan Wapner, an Ontario city councilman and member of OIAA, high fares and lack of flights are the two biggest problems ONT faces.
“Now that the airport is under local control, what can we do differently than Los Angeles in order to incentivize lower fares and more direct flights?” Wapner said.
A major potential resource for ONT is the airport’s unused square footage, which could be more efficiently used to bring in greater revenue from rent and businesses. Wapner noted that ONT is among the last airports in the country to lack an automated parking system, for instance, which could be modernized. In addition, he suggested that more shops could be established outside of security so that visitors without boarding passes could provide revenue.
ONT currently provides no direct flights to the east coast, which hampers its ability to compete with LAX. Miller described how there used to be a direct JetBlue flight from ONT to JFK and other major east coast hubs, before JetBlue relocated base its operations to Long Beach.
“That decision by JetBlue is emblematic of a larger problem that Ontario has had over the last decade of declining number of passengers, declining number of flights, and the officials at ontario airport attribute a lot of that to mismanagement by officials at LAX,” Miller sad.
Direct flights to the east coast through Southwest, one of ONT’s biggest partners, is a priority in keeping ONT competitive. As it is, many fliers find it more compelling to make the longer drive to LAX to take a direct flight to their destination. ONT hopes to win these customers back by not only offering direct flights but also improving access to the airport itself.
Proposed plans for ground transit to the airport are extensive, and could include a shuttle line from the Claremont Colleges or a light rail that goes through the middle of Claremont Village. “We have to create a better ground access system to get people to the airport, but not if it means creating another mess like LAX has,” Wapner said. Proposals suggest a transport hub that allows for ridesharing, light rail and shuttle services to convene by the airport.