Southern California’s Inland Empire is a vast sprawl of affordable housing and big box stores east of Los Angeles that also is home to Ontario International Airport (ONT). The once-bustling airport now looks like a ghost town at most times of day, with even further cutbacks under consideration. With a renewed emphasis on hubs, smaller regional airports like ONT find themselves fighting for survival.
ONT is run by the same airport authority that runs Los Angeles International Airport and for our purposes, let’s consider ONT the hated stepchild. Residents of the Inland Empire are fed up with the severe cutbacks in service and have laid the blame at the feet of those running Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). And perhaps for good cause.
The City of Ontario has filed a lawsuit seeking to wrest control of ONT back and court documents reveal that those LA “city slickers” don’t exactly have a high view of the people of the Inland Empire, or at least that is the implication when Steve Martin (not the actor, but the Chief Operating Officer of LAWA) called the area the “inbred Inland Empire” and patronizingly called recent airport improvements “a storied tale of charity toward the Inland Empire.” That is not the way to win friends and influence people…
Martin claims his words were taken out of context. Perhaps they were.
In any case, the City of Onatrio has put forward two arguments in its claim for why it should re-take control (last held in 1967) of ONT. First, a claim of deliberate neglect. A similar 2006 lawsuit led to a compromise agreement in which LAWA promised to spread out international airport service to ports beyond LAX, including ONT. That never happened. Second, the City of Ontario charges mismanagement, claiming there is no other explanation for passenger traffic dropping from 7.2 million to 4 million in one year.
I take a different view. I do agree that Ontario should have control of ONT and that it would do a better job managing it than a distant LA entity that has shown disdain toward this region of Southern California. But, I am also doubtful the problems experienced by ONT will be solved with new management.
Carriers are logically consolidating operations at hubs and moving service out of smaller stations that necessitate extra staff and operating expenses. I don’t think we’d see such a huge reduction in service to ONT if airlines were making good money by flying there.
I hope for the best for ONT…for the millions of people in Eastern LA and Riverside Counties, ONT provides a welcome relief from the long trek to LAX and the airport’s easy and inexpensive on-site parking and small crowds make it an attractive airport to fly out of even for residents who live further west.
LAWA officials should exercise caution in their disdain for the Inland Empire (which, trust me, is typical of those on the Westside in LA) but I’m not sure their disdain is the reason ONT is facing what some call an insurmountable struggle for survival.