Restructuring to help Ontario Airport’s operations issues

As Ontario and neighboring cities continue to fight for local control of Ontario Airport, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) is looking for ways to better address concerns of insufficient management of the regional air hub.

To bridge the gap between Ontario and LAWA—the Los Angeles airport department—which also operates the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Van Nuys Airport (VNY)—announced a restructuring that will have Ontario and Van Nuys Airport Manager Jess Romo reporting to Chief Operating Officer Steve Martin.

For more than 2 years, a battle has been waged between Ontario and LAWA, which currently operates the local international airport. Ontario representatives fear that the steadily-increasing cost of flights out of Ontario—for airlines as well as passengers—will continue to contribute to the airport’s decline, leading to its eventual closure.

The new hire looks to “align the expanded duties associated with his position” as well as “provide increased coordination between divisions and improve continuity at [LAWA].”

“It has become clear that the daily management demands at both airports have moved progressively and significantly beyond the confines of airport operations,” said LAWA Executive Director Gina Lindsey. “Management oversight at ONT and VNY airports includes an ever-expanding set of requirements in areas of public and community relations, effective tenant and stakeholder relations, resource allocation, budget controls and ONT air service development.”

Ontario’s frustration has built upon a struggle that has been mounting for years. The airport was first bought from the city of Ontario by LAWA in 1967. LAWA reports an estimated $560 million in investments to improve the airport as it grew in the decades following.

Due in part to the struggling economy, Ontario Airport began to see a sharp decline in airline carriers and travelers over the past several years. Numbers peaked in 2007 with an estimated 7.2 million annual visitors, according to reports. In 2011, the airport reported about 4.5 million, a loss of nearly 260,000 from the previous year. Ontario officials allege mismanagement from LAWA representatives as a key element of the growing problem.

“We feel that LAWA has not done enough to market and make this airport so it can compete with mid-sized secondary airports in the region,” said Ontario City Manager Chris Hughes in a previous interview.

Mr. Romo, with a history of service at Ontario Airport, looks to address some of those management and marketing issues. Mr. Romo first joined LAWA in 1997. He was named LA/ Ontario International Airport manager in 2006 and later manager at Van Nuys Airport in 2010.

“[Mr. Romo] will actively participate in the ONT Task Force, along with other LAWA executive staff, and will take an active role in determining service levels from other divisions at the 2 airports for which he has accountability,” Ms. Lindsey said.

In the meantime, Ontario’s fight for local control continues. To date, more than 80 cities, organizations and officials have adopted resolutions supporting or publicly endorsing Ontario’s ongoing fight to gain local control, including Claremont. Ontario began a public relations campaign earlier this year—under the slogan “Set Ontario Free”— asking for other cities across the region to help aid in their fight to acquire the airport from LAWA.

Ontario officials have offered LAWA $50 million for control of the local airport. Though Ms. Lindsey said in a statement that the amount “doesn’t come close to either the value of the airport today or the value of the significant investment the city of LA has dedicated to [Ontario],” the Los Angeles City Council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism committee directed further analysis of Ontario’s offer. Led by Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the analysis and recommendation are anticipated in June.

—Beth Hartnett


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