Congress approves key step in Ontario airport transfer process
Following years of lobbying, Congress has taken a key step in putting L.A./Ontario International Airportinto local hands.
In January, the majority leader introduced Bill 4369, which would take future passenger fees at ONT to help pay off the cost for the two terminals, a 2015 condition of returning the airport to local ownership.
“The Inland Empire has and continues to be one of the fastest growing regions in California and the nation, and it is far past time that we control our aviation future,” Calvert, R-Corona, said on the House floor. “I am confident that with local control restored, Ontario International Airport will be a significant contributor to future economic growth in our region.”
Under the terms of the Aug. 6, 2015, agreement between Los Angles and Ontario, Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports would be reimbursed for the investments they have made at ONT. In the landmark deal, Ontario International Airport Authority will pay Los Angeles World Airports $50 million from passenger facility charges in the first five years; and another $70 million from passenger facility charges in the final five years.
“Since it is not possible under existing law, today we are fixing this glitch,” Calvert said.
The Federal Aviation Administration was expected to hand the Ontario International Airport Authority its certificate of operation July 1.
Because the fix for the “glitch”was part of the much larger FAA reauthorization bill, which includes a controversial effort to privatize air traffic control, Calvert requested it be considered separately, given the time sensitivity.
“There’s no lack of support; it just got caught up in the national issue,” the congressman said by phone after the vote. The FAA’s reauthorization bill has already been extended three times, he said.
Calvert has been in communication with all the parties involved in the agreement, even meeting Tuesday morning with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to give him a progress update, he said.
Both Calvert and Rep. Norma Torres, D-Chino, described Tuesday’s vote as a good day for the Inland Empire, heralding the importance of the airport’s success as a key economic driver for the region.
When negotiations began in 2010, Ontario officials were alarmed by the steep decline in ONT passenger traffic. The airport lost 37 percent of its passenger traffic from 2007 to 2011. Ontario filed a lawsuit in June 2013 against Los Angeles and LAWA in an attempt to rescind or reform the 1967 agreement that gave control of the airport to Los Angeles.
“For many years now, our region has advocated for restoring local control of Ontario International Airport and putting the future growth of air travel in our own hands,” Calvert said.
Ontario and Los Angeles staff have spent hundreds of hours working with FAA to ensure the transfer of the airport, Calvert said.
The bill has received bipartisan support, cosponsored by several legislators in the Inland Empire, including Torres and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino.
“Having a management team in place that understands local needs and has only the interest of this airport in mind will help the airport expand and take full advantage of its strategic location and our region’s potential for economic growth,” Torres, co-sponsor of the bill, said on the House floor. “Passing this legislation was a crucial and necessary step toward finally achieving local control.”
Another co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, also addressed the House on Tuesday. Because of the lack of domestic and international flights at ONT, experts say nearly 2 million travelers from the region are forced to use other regional airports.
“On a personal note, I look forward to the day when I no longer have to commute from Riverside to Los Angeles International Airport,” he said.
In a statement, Kelly Fredericks, CEO of the Ontario International Airport Authority, said the continued support and efforts by Inland Empire congressional delegation have been much needed.
“Today’s passage by the House represents a major milestone towards finalizing transfer of ONT to the Ontario International Airport Authority and local control,” he said.
Calvert’s is one of three companion bills meant to address the issue. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, whose efforts brought Ontario and Los Angeles to the negotiating table, is sponsoring an identical bill in the Senate with fellow Californian Democrat Barbara Boxer.
Calvert’s bill now goes to the Senate for approval.
“It’s now in Senate’s hands to bring it across the finish line,” Torres said.