The LAX/ONT Conundrum is real

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The Councilman representing the Ontario area is upset with “troubling comments” made by the Los Angeles World Airports. While the internal comments are clearly injudicious, the opinions reflect a reality of airlines and airports.

LAX is 56.5 miles from its co-operated LA/Ontario International Airport. Both Burbank and Long Beach Airports are closer to the area’s #1 terminal. All four of these airports draw from the same reservoir of passenger demand.

It is Chapter One in the airline operating book that dividing flights among two or more airports should only occur when one of the facilities is congested either as a matter of airside or landside capacity. By dividing the demand between two locations, the airline loses it economy of scale. Added costs are not preferred by these fierce competitors because the increased expenses lead to higher fares.

Today, all of the LA Basin airports compete for traffic trying to attract more flights to their runways. If LAWA, as the joint representative of LAX and ONT, goes to Airline A’s Vice President of scheduling and requests that some of its flights go to ONT instead of LAX, A’s response may be to explain that the other airports in the same geographical area will be happy to accept all of their planes. Not good.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. There are two other airport authorities which operate more than one commercial airport (there are others which control one commercial airport and one or more GA airports). The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey actually owns and operates JFK, LGA and EWR (plus others); all three serve the NYC demographic area. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority directs both DCA and IAD. Their joint marketing of all of their aviation properties is facilitated by differentiation of their service. DCA and LGA both are legally bound to accept only short haul flights (with some exceptions). JFK, EWR and IAD have, as their purposes, to serve long-haul and international airline offerings plus connections.

LAX is already established as a major hub serving regional, national and foreign flights. It is difficult now to remove any of those flights from the LAX schedules. While the quotes of the LAWA staff show poor word choice, it is correct to push regionalization would hurt the larger LA economy.

A strategic review with the community and all of the airlines might lead to an acceptable strategic reconfiguration. The existing passenger synergy should not be disturbed; however, the current road system is congested and the future airside capacity may become congested. Those realities make it hard for cargo and express freight to efficiently move their boxes and packages. After talking with all of the stakeholders, it might be appropriate to make ONT the cargo airport for the area.

If the Councilman believes that his constituents must have passenger service out of ONT, his strategy should include considering separation of his local airport from LAWA. Even then, there may not be a rush of established air carriers to his preferred terminal.

Airline economics are not working in the Councilman’s favor. LAWA’s statement of the airport/airlines realities is appropriate.

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