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Postscript: ‘Fly Ontario’ Idea Was Victim of Poor Timing

A campaign to convince Orange County travelers to “fly Ontario” International Airport never got off the ground.

The ill-fated idea, which Orange County Supervisor Harriett Wieder started kicking around two years ago, gained momentum last January when the Board of Supervisors approved a promotional campaign designed by Basso & Associates, a Costa Mesa advertising and public relations agency. The campaign would promote Ontario as an alternative to crowded John Wayne Airport.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 13, 1985 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 13, 1985 Orange County Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Financial Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Air-Cruises-Tours travel agency has stopped scheduled passenger shuttle service between its Costa Mesa office and Ontario International Airport but continues to provide an on-call service. Due to an editing error, The Times incorrectly reported Monday that the company had canceled all shuttle service.

But enthusiasm for the strategy waned after John Wayne was allowed to add three airlines and expand from 41 to 55 flights a day. Business leaders said the expansion relieved the John Wayne crunch, at least for now. Support for an all-out promotion deflated further when Ontario Airport’s managers said their airport already was used beyond capacity.

By April, it was clear that no one would shoulder the projected $348,000 cost of the campaign.

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The supervisors weren’t about to spend public money on the effort. They were counting on financing from the private sector--especially major Orange County employers and developers in the Ontario area who ostensibly had the most to gain.

Wieder and Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas Riley, whose district includes John Wayne Airport, invited Orange County’s business elite to a meeting April 11 to gauge interest in bankrolling a “fly Ontario” drive. But only a handful of the invited firms sent representatives to the meeting, including John D. Lusk & Son, the Irvine Co., the Fluor Corp., Hughes Corp. and Alpha Beta.

Bill Hodge, airport operations administrative officer, said the participants agreed that “perhaps we would accomplish more for less money” by having the county airport staff try to sell the merits of Ontario Airport to travel agents and corporate travel planners in the northeast part of the county, closest to Ontario, rather than launching a countywide publicity blitz.

Eric Christianson, head of travel administration for Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, said travel planners for large firms in north Orange County already are well aware of expanding service at Ontario. During the last four years, Ontario has increased its flights from 40 to 132 a day and added 11 airlines, for a total of 18.

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“Until the airlines reach a saturation point at John Wayne, where there are no longer seats available, it will be difficult to make anyone travel 40 miles to Ontario,” he said.

Jay Burchett, owner of Air-Cruises-Tours in Costa Mesa, found that out the hard way.

Last December, when talk about promoting Ontario International was the hottest, Burchett inaugurated a daily shuttle service from his travel agency in Costa Mesa to Ontario. A month ago, he scrapped it for lack of passengers.


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