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No Plans to Sell Ontario Airport, L.A. Officials Tell Inland Empire Delegation

Many City Councils in the area, including those of Diamond Bar and Walnut, are in favor of a resolution backing Ontario’s effort to get local control of the LA/Ontario International Airport.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Los Angeles International Airport, told a delegation of Inland Empire officials and business leaders on Wednesday the city has no plans to sell LA/Ontario International Airport.

A delegation that included the mayors of Riverside and Corona and the
president of the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce held meetings with Los Angeles officials, including Villaraigosa and council members, to discuss the
fate of the airport.

The officials denied the visit was to negotiate on behalf of the city of Ontario, which is seeking control of the airport.

Villaraigosa told City News Service the meeting was "very positive," but he also told the officials he would not approve the sale of the airport when the real estate market is such bad shape.

"I have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said.

The Ontario airport is owned and operated by Los Angeles World Airports, an independent city department that sets its own budget. LAWA, which also owns and manages LAX and a general aviation airport in Van Nuys, purchased the
airport in 1985.

Ontario and a growing number of other San Bernardino and Riverside county cities have grown frustrated at the city's refusal to sell the airport despite a steep decline in travelers. The airport's traffic plunged 37.5 percent last year since it's peak in 2007, when about 7.2 million passengers used the airport.

Ontario officials have called for local control, claiming LAWA is purposely driving traffic to LAX at Ontario's expense. Councilmen Rosendahl, Tom LaBonge and Dennis Zine have filed separate motions calling for a study of the airport's fair market value and what caused the decline in passenger traffic. The motion is expected to be discussed by the council's Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee in April or May.

LAWA officials blame the decline in travel on the economy, which hit the Inland Empire particularly hard. They also point to more than $500 million in investments at the airport since the late 1990s.

"I explained to the (delegation) that the major airlines have to decide to do nonstop, direct and frequent discounted flights out of Ontario," Rosendahl said. "They will only do it when they feel that it's cheaper for them (at Ontario) than LAX."

Rosendahl said he anticipates $1.5 billion in improvements at LAX and the opening of the new Tom Bradley International Terminal in 2013 will drive up
the cost of flying in and out of that airport, making it cheaper and more
attractive for airlines to fly into Ontario.

Ontario City Manager Chris Hughes disputed that interpretation.

"Ontario is the most expensive airport in the country for airlines to fly in and out of. LAWA sets the cost," Hughes said. "The facts seem to speak for themselves."

Hughes said the decline threatens to eliminate 10,000 jobs and $500 million in economic activity around the airport.  Travel at the airport is is projected to decline through September, Hughes said.

"This is the biggest econ driver in the region and it continues to bleed. What's the tipping point?" he said.

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