Most airports in the area are growing again, but figures released Monday underscore just how much Los Angeles International Airport dominates the market and continues to frustrate the goals of a lawsuit settlement to spread airline traffic across the region.
A new study presented to the Ontario International Airport Authority board shows that LAX will handle a record 71.4 million airline passengers this year and has increased its market share as of September to 76.4%, the highest in 25 years.
Meanwhile, the market shares of four out of the five other commercial airports in the region have shrunk since the recession, though some have seen increases in travelers, according to Oliver Wyman, an aviation consulting firm that prepared the report for the authority.
At LA/Ontario International Airport, the number of passengers declined from 7.2 million in 2007 to about 4 million last year; its current market share has dropped to 4.4%, the lowest since 1990.
Ontario officials, who have sued to regain control of LA/Ontario from Los Angeles, say the new figures are another indication that the operator, Los Angeles World Airports, has ignored a 2006 court settlement requiring the agency to try to spread the growth in air travel at LAX to other airports.
"The fact is that the attempt by Los Angeles to regionalize aviation in Southern California has failed miserably," said Ontario Mayor Pro Tem Alan Wapner. "We need to bring local control back to the airport."
So-called regionalism has long been a goal of noise- and traffic-conscious residents surrounding LAX. Many have fought that airport's physical expansion in court for years and obtained a settlement in 2006 requiring Los Angeles officials to work toward regionalizing airline traffic in return for being able to make various LAX improvements.
Citing records that include emails, deposition testimony and meeting transcripts, Ontario's pending lawsuit quotes top-ranking Los Angeles airport officials appearing to dismiss regionalism as "a silly waste of time," "a politically driven mantra to appease LAX neighbors" and "economic suicide" for LAX, which is undergoing a multibillion-dollar modernization.
A Riverside County Superior Court judge is expected to rule soon on several key disputes in the case.
In a statement Monday, Los Angeles officials said 2014 would be a good year for LA/Ontario, but they did not address the regionalization issue. They have contended that the airport's decline is due to the economic recession and a restructuring in which the airline industry shifted flights to dominant airports, such as LAX.
Airline costs at LA/Ontario have been cut to make it more attractive, they said, and there are ongoing efforts to market the airport and encourage carriers to add service.
According to airport figures, the number of passengers at LA/Ontario has increased about 4.1% during the first 10 months of this year from about 3.29 million to 3.42 million. Oliver Wyman predicts the volume will be about 4.1 million by the end of the year.
Though the number of passengers is up, the report indicates that airlines will continue to pull available seats out of the LA/Ontario market and reduce flight schedules into 2015, the eighth consecutive year that carriers have reduced capacity.
"It's a terrible trend that must be addressed and corrected in order for the airport's recovery to begin in earnest," said Ontario City Manager Al Boling.
In addition to LA/Ontario, the data shows that Palm Springs International Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County have experienced some passenger growth since the recession, whereas Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and Long Beach Airport have had recent declines in travelers.