Los Angeles city airport administrators hired a consultant Tuesday to develop a long-range plan for the expansion of Ontario International Airport, to accommodate some of Southern California's increasing air transportation needs.
The growth of the airport has become increasingly important since the March 5 election, when Orange County voters rejected construction of an international airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, airport officials said.
Members of the Los Angeles City Airport Commission unanimously approved the hiring of the consultant, saying other regional airports must pick up some of the 30 million or so passengers a year that planners had hoped would be able to use the now-rejected south Orange County facility by 2025.
The seven-member commission operates Ontario and three other airports. With its vote, the panel hired Kansas City-based HNTB Corp. to make plans for expanding Ontario International.
The firm has extensive experience designing airport and transportation projects. It has also been a financial backer of Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn and of Hahn's campaign against San Fernando Valley secession.
In December, HNTB gave $25,000 to L.A. United, the mayor's anti-secession campaign committee. The company's local executives also contributed $24,950 to Hahn. They gave mayoral election rival Antonio Villaraigosa $4,700 during last year's campaign.
HNTB was chosen from a field of three bidders, which submitted proposals last summer to start planning for the long-term expansion of passenger terminals and facilities at the Ontario airport.
The first stage of the work is expected to take a year and cost $650,000. But airport officials said the contract could total $3.9 million when later phases of the project are included.
After the commission approved the contract, Hahn said in a statement that he is committed to moving forward with his campaign promise "to develop a regional aviation program that will redistribute Southern California's air traffic demand from Los Angeles International to other regional airports."
Despite this month's decision by 57.8% of Orange County voters to oppose development of an international airport at El Toro, Hahn said "all airports in the region must be prepared to take on a larger share of passenger and cargo volume in the future in order to preserve the economic benefits of tourism and trade in our region."
With two new passenger terminals that opened in 1998, the Ontario facility is handling more than 6 million passengers a year, even with the drop in air travel after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The San Bernardino County airport already has plans to build a third passenger terminal when air traffic reaches 10 million annual passengers.
Jim Ritchie, deputy executive for long-term planning at Los Angeles World Airports, said a new terminal would boost Ontario's annual capacity from 10 million to 15 million passengers.
The new master plan study will examine the impact of future construction, including passenger and cargo facilities and a third runway. Ritchie said the Southern California Assn. of Governments has projected that Ontario may have to serve 30 million passengers a year by 2025.
Ultimately, the master plan study is expected to lead to an environmental impact report on the effects of expanding the airport.
Airport Commissioner Leland Wong, just back from a trip to China, said expansion of Ontario is "even more important" to the Los Angeles region after the anti-airport vote in Orange County.
A regional aviation plan called for El Toro to handle about 30 million passengers a year but voters passed a measure to rezone the site as a park and nature preserve.