Congressman Jerry Lewis and Congressman Ken Calvert Monday urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to have the Federal Aviation Administration intervene in reversing the decline of Ontario International Airport or face the imminent loss of an important aviation asset.
Lewis and Calvert also wrote to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, warning that the city's Los Angeles World Airports agency must take immediate steps to either improve business at Ontario or turn it over to Inland Empire officials to operate and market. Without immediate action, Lewis and Calvert warned that the airport may be lost to the region.
"We strongly urge DOT to closely examine Los Angeles World Airport's governance of Ontario International Airport," the congressmen wrote to LaHood. "As currently structured, the aviation, traffic, and environmental needs of southern California are not being satisfied. Without action, we are precariously close to losing the airport, a vital component to the economic health of San Bernardino and Riverside counties."
As frequent flyers in and out of Ontario, Congressman Lewis and Congressman Calvert have become alarmed by the sharp decline in airline service at the Inland Empire's only commercial airport. Their concern has been heightened by recent news accounts indicating that LAWA appears to have no plan to entice more flights into the airport.
"While air travel nationwide has declined, passenger traffic at LAX has actually increased over last year, while Ontario is often completely deserted these days," Lewis said. "I understand why Los Angeles would make protecting LAX a priority - but that is all the more reason why we need to move control to our local officials who would provide similar support for Ontario."
"Maximizing the potential of a medium-hub, full-service airport such as Ontario Airport is key to the success of the Inland Empire, especially at a time when our economy is struggling," Calvert said.
Once a rising star among midsize airports, Ontario is now faced with many challenges, the congressmen wrote to Villaraigosa. Saddled with high fees and expensive fares, Ontario has lost an estimated 8,000 airport related jobs and $400 million in yearly business activity. Flights have been reduced by 47% and 60% fewer destinations are served. The airport has lost a third of its passengers since 2007. The impact of Ontario's troubles on the already struggling Inland Empire has been enormous.
The FAA has been an eager supporter of the Los Angeles World Airports' plan to spread air traffic more evenly among airports throughout the Southern California region. By turning its focus almost entirely on LAX at the expense of Ontario operations, LAWA is seriously undermining that plan, Lewis and Calvert said. It is time to turn the operations over to more local control -- either the city of Ontario or some Inland Empire airport authority -- to ensure some agency is focused entirely on the success of the local airport, he said.
"Los Angeles has been a big investor in the success of Ontario, but so has the FAA, and time is running short for us to protect that investment," Lewis said. "We need aggressive management now that will work for the improvement of Ontario, and not have to worry if more flights in one location might result in fewer somewhere else."
"Aggressively planning for the future of Ontario airport and making it a strong alternative to LAX for passengers benefits everyone," Calvert said.
Lewis worked closely with LaHood during his time in Congress, when they were both members of the House Appropriations Committee for many years. Lewis and Calvert, who is also a member of the committee, hope to draw on their relationship with LaHood to convince the FAA to push for a resolution to the Ontario decline.