Aerial view of LA/Ontario International Airport. Photo by skinnylawyer/[CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Aerial view of LA/Ontario International Airport. Photo by skinnylawyer/[CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A years-long battle over control of LA/Ontario International Airport could move closer to an end Thursday, when officials from Los Angeles and Ontario will make a “major announcement” regarding the future of the airfield.

Officials in both cities declined to comment prior to the planned 1 p.m. Thursday news conference in Ontario by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Ontario Mayor Pro Tem Alan Wapner. The Los Angeles Airport Commission is scheduled to meet in closed session at 8 a.m. Thursday to discuss the pending lawsuit filed against the city by Ontario seeking to wrest control of the airport away from Los Angeles World Airports.

A spokesman for Set Ontario Free, a group campaigning to have the airport transferred to the control of Ontario, also declined to comment.

Ontario filed its lawsuit in June 2013 after negotiations for an ownership transfer hit an impasse. One of the chief stumbling blocks was L.A.’s request for $475 million to relinquish the airfield. According to LAWA, nearly $500 million has been invested in runway and other terminal upgrades since the late 1990s.

The plaintiffs are alleging breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty against LAWA, which maintains there’s no evidence of a failure to faithfully manage the facility.

Ontario accuses LAWA — and by extension, the city of Los Angeles — of neglect of the airfield, leaving it at a competitive disadvantage by keeping ramp fees high while lowering them at LAX in order to draw more traffic to the coast.

Supporters of the “Set Ontario Free” campaign made an offer of $50 million cash and to assume debts attached to the airport, if LAWA would let it go, according to Roy Goldberg, one of the attorneys representing Ontario.

In 2013, the Ontario International Airport Authority was formed to assume operational responsibilities when and if a transfer occurs.

The OIAA commissioned a study indicating that, without steps to increase the airport’s visibility through general promotional campaigns and direct marketing to airlines, the field’s future prospects will continue to dim.

Between 2007 and 2013, passenger loads at the airport fell 40 percent, according to the study. However, the trend reversed last year, when passenger traffic expanded about 3 percent, figures showed.

LAWA officials have denied any effort reduce business at the Ontario airport in favor of LAX, and disputed figures in the OIAA study. LAWA noted that flights were added at the airport in 2013, and attributed other reported declines to airlines using smaller aircraft on scheduled routes, accounting for reductions in available seats.

LAWA officials also insisted that airfares from Ontario are “extremely competitive” and often beat fares available at comparable airports such as Burbank and John Wayne in Orange County.

Garcetti has spoken in favor of transferring the airport to Ontario, as long as the city is fairly reimbursed.

In April, a judge in Riverside rejected a motion by the city of Los Angeles to have Ontario’s lawsuit dismissed. The case is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 17.

— City News Service 

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