Los Angeles airport commissioners have discussed closing one of two terminals… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)
Because passenger traffic at L.A./Ontario International Airport is continuing to drop, officials began Thursday to explore closing one of the airport's two terminals.
The idea comes as Ontario International finds itself among the fastest-declining midsize airports in the country. A pillar of pride for the Inland Empire, the sprawling facility — owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles — lost a third of its 7.2 million passengers during the economic downturn between 2007 and 2010. The airport is on track to have as many passengers this year as it saw in 1987. Nationally, only Cincinnati is shedding travelers at a faster pace.
The potential closure was discussed at Thursday's meeting of Los Angeles airport commissioners, but no action was taken.
The possible closure signifies a big swing in fortunes for the airport's twin $269-million terminals, which opened in 1998 as Ontario was bursting at the seams. Both terminals were built to handle 10 million passengers a year, but only slightly more than 4 million are expected for this year.
"A number of the carriers are cutting out flights," said Mark Thorpe, director of air service marketing at Los Angeles World Airports. "Based on future airline schedules for Ontario, conditions continue to worsen."
The city agency is also considering reducing the $4.50-per-passenger facility charge, further cutting operating costs and creating financial incentives for airlines to add new nonstop flights, officials told the airport commission.
Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner, who has argued that Los Angeles has been squandering an aviation asset, was critical of the possible terminal closure and advocated that L.A. give up control over the airport so local officials could run it.
"I just don't see the way the airport can sustain itself," Wapner said. "If they can't reverse what they're doing, the airport will just close. That's what they're trying to do anyway, to get all the traffic to go to L.A."
Closing a terminal would send a message to airlines and passengers that "the outlook is bleak," Wapner said.
Inland Empire leaders are increasingly convinced that Los Angeles World Airports, which operates both LAX and Ontario, has become an absentee landlord bent on completing a multibillion-dollar modernization of LAX at the expense of its weaker stepchild and potential competitor 56 miles to the east. There are far fewer flights and destinations available at Ontario, and often sharply higher airfares compared to years past.
Los Angeles World Airports officials have defended their management of Ontario airport and said falling traffic is a result of the recession, higher jet fuel prices and declining income of passengers who don't fly as they once did. They also said both legacy and discount airlines are focusing more traffic on hub airports like LAX and reducing their attention to secondary airports.
"There won't be net growth until you see the economy bounce back," Thorpe said.