REGION: Inland officials confront LA airports chief

May 16, 2012

Why, Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge asked LA World Airports chief Gina Marie Lindsey.

Why would you want to keep a business that’s lost 34 percent of its customers — and isn’t going to bounce back for 23 years — when you’ve got a $50 million offer for it on the table?

Wait, wait, I know this one! For the same reason a greedy man wants custody of his ailing, elderly, rich aunt: to siphon off as much wealth as he can before she dies.

But that wasn’t Lindsey’s answer during a panel discussion Wednesday, May 16, at the Four Corners Coalition summit in Diamond Bar.

Because of the way LAWA structured terminal rents and fees, ONT doesn’t lose money, Lindsey said. No matter how many airlines leave, the remaining airlines must pick up the tab. A "self-correcting formula," she called it. (Self-defeating, I call it. The more it costs airlines to use ONT, the more likely they are to pull out.)

The panel also included Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner, regionalization advocate Denny Schneider and Southern California Association of Governments aviation planner Michael Armstrong.

It came as a campaign to take back control of ONT picks up momentum.

Lindsey had walked into the lion’s den. You gotta give her credit for that.

Loveridge confronted her over a trade show where LAWA displayed fliers about LAX’s new Bradley terminal — but nothing about ONT.

Schneider confronted her over LA’s promise to regionalize air traffic once LAX hit 40 million passengers a year. It’s now at 62 million, 75 percent of SoCal’s total.

Wapner confronted her over statements that it’s no longer as important to regionalize because LAX is down from a peak 68 million.

He accused LAWA and the commission with being out of step with the LA City Council, who — one day after an airport commissioner proposed tabling Ontario’s offer for two years — asked the city administrator to review it. (The report is due in June.)

But Lindsey held strong to the platitude that ONT is a "very important, long-term strategic asset" for LA. Whatever that means.

She said it’s "silly" for Ontario and other cities to fight with LA over ONT.

"We ought to be working together to let it thrive," she said. (Notice she said "let," not "help" — as if it will happen on its own.)

She mouthed assertions about LA having made a big "investment" in ONT, and that it would be "pretty silly" not to take care of it.

Wapner countered that LA has invested not one penny in ONT. The cost of building the twin terminals is entirely covered by rents and fees the airlines pay.

The audience of about 200 officials from Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and LA counties weighed in with its own proposals.

Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane said rail service from downtown LA to ONT would capture business travelers from a high-growth center. Others urged a transit link between ONT and Orange County, where John Wayne Airport serves less than half its area’s needs.

So did the meeting open a dialogue? Or will LAWA continue neglecting ONT?

Cassie MacDuff can be reached at 951-368-9470 or cmacduff@PE.com