Ontario International is on to a winning track as it rises from Los Angeles International’s shadow, but politics could thwart its development plans

Ontario… no, not Ontario, Canada, but Ontario, California and home to one of the United States of America’s fastest growing airports. After living for a long time under common control and in the shadow of the bright lights of Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario International, located in southwestern San Bernardino County around 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, has had a happy divorce. Its new owner, Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA), says it is now “on track” to handle five million passengers in 2018 after continued network growth.


Summary:

  • Ontario International Airport continues to attract more passengers after its divorce from Los Angeles World Airports;
  • It now claims to be among the fastest growing airports in the country with passenger traffic up an unprecedented +13.2% across the first eight months;
  • The management at Ontario International are committed to any public transport option that frees it from building more car parks;
  • But, a much sought-after further extension of the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line  could be thwarted by local politics.

It is now two years since Ontario International’s Nov-2016 split from Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) after OIAA paid off USD55 million in bonds that had been issued by LAWA for airport improvements, and the FAA granted it an operating certificate. It intends that by cutting operating costs and marketing the airport more effectively, it can regain traffic levels that it has not seen in nearly a decade.

This was not a privatisation, in a land that is slowly but surely embracing such activities, mainly through P3 activities. The authority is an amalgam of the City of Ontario and San Bernardino County, hence entirely public sector. However, private sector management initiatives and the propensity to attract capital would be just what the doctor ordered for a facility striving to overcome years of alleged “neglect” during which traffic levels fell significantly.

By Jan-2018 the passenger growth level had improved to +10.6%, and in Oct-2018 OIAA reported it is “on track” to handle five million passengers in 2018 and that it is “now known as the fastest-growing airport in the country”. Growth has continued and even increased since then, but still with room to grow with its long-term capacity estimated at 30 million passengers per year.

CHART – Ontario International Airport has seen traffic levels grow +13.2% year-on-year over the first eight months of 2018, its largest annual rate of growth for some timeSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Annual passenger volumes at the airport have nearly doubled in the two years since its return to local control. With the arrival of China Airlines it has seen the launch of the first daily trans-Pacific flights from a Southern California airport other than Los Angeles International, while JetBlue returned to the airport this autumn, with non-stop service to New York’s JFK Airport. The ULCC Frontier Airlines, which began service at Ontario International late last year, recently began nonstop service to Florida.

The position taken by the management regarding its commitment to the community is that it will continue to grow the airport as long as it is not reliant on people driving their own cars. That requires a multimodal transportation system that can accommodate both current and future growth. That is a surprising stance for an airport to take, given the revenues that can be raised from airport parking, especially in the US.

That position appears to refer to the Phase 2B (‘Foothill’) USD1.5 billion extension of the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line over 12 miles (19 km) beyond its current terminus at APU/Citrus College for five stops to Pomona, Claremont and Montclair (which is not shown on the map below) and brings it just over 6.2 miles (10km) away from the airport. The extension has been funded by local and corporate pollution taxes, and while there are no immediate plans to extend the line further, that could be a future path.

CHART – The expansion of the Los Angeles Metro will see the Gold Line expanded beyond Azusa Downtown and APU/Citrus College to Claremont and Montclair, closer to Ontario International AirportSource: Google Maps

But with passenger traffic growing as it is, and Los Angeles International about to benefit from two Metro stops when a new line (Crenshaw) opens, Ontario International has ambitious plans ultimately to see a multi-modal transportation hub developed, thereby widening its own catchment area.

But before that it has to clear one of the many political hurdles that can often arise in the US in these circumstances. There is discord in San Bernardino County, where it is feared an extension of the heavily subsidised Metro Gold Line to Ontario International would bring with it low fares that would make an existing Metrolink service unviable. Already there are examples around the networks where a USD7.75 Metrolink ticket cannot compete with a USD1.75 Metro one and Metrolink ridership rates have dropped by 25% on some routes.