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Negotiations Surrounding ONT Continue; Passenger Numbers Continue Downward Slide

Los Angeles World Airports and the recently formed Ontario International Airport Authority are continuing negotiations for a possible transfer of the airport this month, against the backdrop of declining passenger numbers for LA/Ontario International (ONT).

The two sides have until Jan. 31 to resolve their differences regarding the fate of ONT. A lawsuit filed by the city of Ontario in April was put on hold in early December as both sides agreed to work toward a solution.

“The reason for that is the new mayor of L.A,. Eric Garcetti, said he is willing to open up negotiations again,” says Jacob Green, assistant city manager for the city of Ontario. “We’re now back in active negotiations and hopefully we’ll continue to make positive process. The lawsuit is on hold until Jan. 31 and we’re back in court on Feb. 5. What we’re hoping is that we’re making great progress this month and that we can continue in that direction.”

The city of Ontario filed a lawsuit in June in an effort to regain control of ONT. Claiming mismanagement, conflicts of interest and agreement violations, Ontario and other Inland Empire officials are seeking the cancellation of a 1967 agreement that transferred operational responsibility for ONT to Los Angeles.

The negotiations come at a time when ONT continues to lose passengers. Total passengers numbers fell an estimated 8.7 percent to 3.93 million in 2013, according to a report prepared by Oliver Wyman consulting firm and presented to the OIAA in December. Using LAWA data, the report showed that passenger traffic has fallen each year since 2007, when volume came in at 7.21 million passengers.

Looking at airline schedules for the first three months of 2014, the report projected that the number of scheduled seats would fall by 9.4 percent in January, compared to the previous January, by 11.1 percent in February and by 10.4 percent in March, compared to the same months the prior year.

The Oliver Wyman report also noted that the total number of airline passengers in the Southern California region was down 2 percent between 2007 and 2013, while passenger numbers at ONT declined 45 percent.

LAWA says the total seat decline for the first quarter of 2014 is “just over 7 percent.”

“Like every year over the past several years, airlines make adjustments to their seasonal services based on seasonal travel patterns and changes in demand,” LAWA says. “Seasonal demand will increase as we head further into the calendar year and is similar to many other airports in the region.”

LAWA said the lower seat numbers are primarily because of a combination of airlines’ use of smaller aircraft for scheduled service and some seasonal routes being eliminated.

“When the spring schedule comes out, airlines will add seats back as demand increases,” LAWA says, noting also that Volaris will begin new service to Guadalajara, Mexico, in April.

In 2013, LAWA launched an airline cooperative marketing program to encourage airlines to market air service on existing or new routes from ONT and added an incentive program for new carriers.