REGION: Inland leaders meet with Ontario airport director
Los Angeles World Airports hasn't finished creating a marketing plan for Ontario International Airport, but Jess Romo, ONT's airport director, is making the rounds of Inland civic groups to calm local-control advocates.
Last week, Romo addressed about 40 elected leaders, business people and civic activists at Riverside City Hall on the invitation of Mayor Ron Loveridge.
This week, he spoke to a similar number at Inland Action, the San Bernardino group that lobbies for state and federal funding to help the region.
Inland Action member John Mirau said LA couldn't have picked a better ambassador to face the audiences frustrated with Ontario airport's steep decline.
Romo wasn't rattled by tough questions about why LAX is gaining passengers while ONT is losing them, why more flights at reasonable fares aren't offered at ONT and whether LAWA is sabotaging ONT deliberately to prop up passenger numbers at LAX.
LAWA needs to rebuild passenger volumes at LAX because it will have to pay for bonds on a $4 billion modernization including a new Tom Bradley International Terminal, Romo told Inland Action members, Mirau said.
That’s understandable, but it doesn’t resolve the conflict of interest LAWA has running LAX and its competitor, ONT, Mirau said.
Romo explained ONT’s decline by saying that airlines are contracting with the economy, focusing flights at hubs rather than mid-size airports like ONT.
He did his best to dispel conspiracy theories that LAWA is deliberately mismanaging ONT to benefit LAX.
But it’s hard to overcome when Inland travelers have to drive to LAX for flights they’d rather catch at ONT.
Loveridge invited Romo to address the western Riverside County leaders after hearing his name for the first time at a conference in Diamond Bar a few weeks back. Romo has managed ONT since 2006, but few local leaders had met him.
After the meeting, the mayor said he got the impression Romo has responsibility for managing ONT’s budget and facilities, but not the authority to make decisions to change things.
If Romo’s purpose was to reassure local leaders he's doing all he can to keep ONT running, it didn't work.
"I did not hear any plan to build up air service," Loveridge said, adding that Romo admitted he has not talked directly to airline CEOs.
Since Van Nuys Airport was added to his responsibilities in 2009, Romo can’t give either airport the attention it deserves, said Ontario City Manager Chris Hughes.
Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner said he left the Riverside meeting with the impression that LAWA has no intention of changing the way it operates ONT.
"It's obvious they still have no plan for our airport," Wapner said.
Leaders from both Riverside and San Bernardino are asking what they can do to help ONT thrive. Romo suggested forming a committee.
But that's no substitute for real attention from the LA decision-makers, who need to make ONT a priority.
Cassie MacDuff can be reached at 951-368-9470 or cmacduff@PE.com or facebook.com/PE.CassieMacDuff