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L.A. official says city should be open to transferring Ontario airport

The city of Los Angeles should continue negotiating with Inland Empire officials to determine if there is a way to transfer control of L.A./Ontario International Airport to them, a new report recommended Friday.

The report, by the top administrator for Los Angeles, also concluded that a Dec. 2011 proposal by Ontario city officials to take over the struggling airport should be declined.

Researchers said the deal could result in the illegal diversion of $50 million in airport revenue to the city instead of to Los Angeles World Airports, the city department that operates Ontario, Los Angeles and Van Nuys airports. Under federal law, all airport revenue must be used strictly for airport purposes.

But Miguel Santana, the chief administrative officer for Los Angeles, said that rejection of the proposal should not close the door to eventually transferring the ownership and operation of Ontario International to a recently formed airport authority staffed by Inland Empire officials.

“We still think there is an opportunity to sell the airport to Ontario or the new authority,” Santana said. “We are recommending a process to do that. This will help create a path forward.”

Researchers said that a transfer of ownership could encourage economic growth across Southern California and foster the regionalization of air traffic, a planning goal to spread the growth in airline passengers to other airports and prevent congestion at LAX.

“A change in ownership could potentially benefit all interested parties,” the report stated. “All parties can potentially achieve their objectives by consummating a transaction with Ontario and its partners, and by providing resources to Los Angeles World Airports to enhance needed infrastructure at Los Angeles International Airport.”

Inland Empire officials, who recently formed the Ontario International Airport Authority, said the report bolstered their effort to assume control of the airport, which has lost more than a third of its passengers since 2007 amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. They contend that Los Angeles airport officials have not done enough to reverse the decline.

“All of Southern California, including Los Angeles, will be better served by this transfer of Ontario to the Ontario International Airport Authority,” said Ontario City Councilman Alan D. Wapner. "We will look forward to prompt and meaningful negotiations..."

The effort to wrest control of the airport away from Los Angeles is now backed by more than 125 governments, elected officials, businesses, civic groups and regional planning organizations, such as the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

Los Angeles airport officials have blamed Ontario’s dramatic decline on the economic recession. They say they have repeatedly tried to attract airlines to the airport but without success. More recently, airport officials have been exploring the possibility of offering airlines financial incentives to add service.

“Los Angeles World Airports has always maintained that L.A./Ontario International Airport is a valuable asset to the city and region," said Gina Marie Lindsey, the agency’s executive director. "We are pleased the CAO's report validates that perspective, encourages thoughtful discussion and a potential path forward."

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-- Dan Weikel

 
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