By Daniel Adamus, MBA Chief Marketing Officer
Ontario, CA – On November 1, 2016, ownership of the Ontario International Airport (ONT) was transferred to the Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA) from Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA, which is also the parent company of LAX). When the transfer of airport was officially commemorated in a formal ceremony the following day, FAA Administrator (and Riverside, CA, native) Michael Huerta challenged the new owners to seize this unique opportunity.
“He compared us to the dog that actually caught the car,” said OIAA CEO Kelly Fredericks. “Lots of dogs chase cars, but I don’t think any actually catch them. What Administrator Huerta was telling us was that the region wanted the airport under local control and now you have it. More importantly, he was asking ‘now, what are you now going to do with it?’” Fredericks said.
One of the key elements necessary for the transfer of ownership was to create an organization which could own and operate the airport in the best possible manner. To that end, the Ontario International Airport Authority was created on August 21, 2012, via a Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement between the City of Ontario and the County of San Bernardino. Alan Wapner, President of the OIAA Board of Commissioners, was actively involved in the effort to return the airport to local control and believed an independent Authority would offer the best possible operational structure.
“We created the Ontario International Airport Authority to be an autonomous public entity, separate, apart and independent from the City of Ontario and the County of San Bernardino. The OIAA was designed to own and operate all ONT assets when the airport was returned to local control,” Wapner said.
“In the development of its mission, the OIAA was tasked to operate and grow the Ontario International Airport as one of the most competitive, efficient, innovative and customer-friendly passenger, cargo and business airports in the United States,” Wapner said. “We believed this to be the case then, and I believe it to be more true now than ever before – the Ontario International Airport is a key economic asset serving and supporting not only the Inland Empire but the entire Southern California region,” he said.
The OIAA Board of Commissioners is comprised of five members. Four are appointed by Ontario City Council to include two sitting Ontario City Council Members (Alan Wapner and Jim Bowman) and two commissioners selected as members of the business community within the airport’s market service area (Lucy Dunn and Ron Loveridge). The fifth commissioner is Curt Hagman, the sitting San Bernardino County Supervisor representing the District in which the airport is located.
Wapner said the board of commissioners is tasked with developing policy, and they hired Fredericks, a seasoned and nationally acclaimed airport executive, to serve as the Authority’s first CEO. “We as a board were very impressed with Kelly, his background and his achievements in the industry. We brought him in to lead the Authority in March of last year, and he has already made great strides to build his senior staff and to complete the airport transfer process with LAWA,in compliance with all regulatory requirements and with the approval of the FAA,” he said.
“Some may say that was the easy part,” Wapner added. “Now that we have the airport under local control, we must make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Kelly and his staff understand the responsibility before them. They also know they have not only the support of the OIAA Board of Commissioners but also the support and well wishes of every municipality and business entity in the entire region,” he said.
The Work Now Begins
With just over three months under their belts, Fredericks and his team have begun the process of assessing the massive 1,861-acre property which comprises the Ontario International Airport footprint. The goal in these still early days is to understand “the good, the bad and the ugly,” Fredericks noted.
“We know we bought a ‘fixer-upper,’” he said. “We have to look at safety first and ensure that all of our operating systems are in compliance with all federal, state and local regulations. We must take inventory, we must modify or rewrite all official processes, procedures and documentation to reflect ownership by the OIAA, and we must prioritize all critical and preventive maintenance in an manner which ensures that we do not disrupt any day-to-day operations,” Fredericks said.
As part of the transfer and for the foreseeable future, the relatively small OIAA staff is supplemented by nearly 200 former LAWA employees who will serve as a contracted labor force during the next 18-24 months identified as a “transition period.” During this time, the OIAA will have a chance to see how the airport was previously operated and to begin making changes.
Fredericks said the OIAA is evaluating all functional areas aboard the airport, and he said that employees of the former airport owner may have an opportunity to join the OIAA in future months. “These are the folks who operated the airport before November 1st and who will continue to do so in the weeks and months following the transfer. They are our front line with our customers, providing their first ‘touch-points’ with the airport and with the OIAA. We are still getting to know each other, but we have a shared focus on providing our customers with the best possible travel experience while they are with us at ONT,” he said. Fredericks noted that as part of the negotiated transfer of the airport, should any LAWA employee not wish to remain at ONT, they are guaranteed a position at LAX or a number of places/departments within the City of Los Angeles.
With all that said, Fredericks and his team believe they have just embarked on an incredible journey. “Ontario International is truly an amazing airport. We have two of the longest runways on the west coast; one is just shy of 2.5 miles and the other is nearly 2 miles long. With those assets and our capability to operate ‘24/7’ with no restrictions, we can handle any aircraft flying today,” he said.
ONT currently operates 62 daily flights with seven commercial airlines, private and charter flights managed by two, general aviation fixed-base operators (FBOs) as well as a number of cargo flights by a variety of international carriers, to include UPS and FedEx. All that activity represents less than half the potential associated with the existing airport infrastructure.
“At its peak (2007-2008), Ontario handled more than 7.2 million passengers per year. Today we are handling just over 4.2 million passengers per year. Our facility, as it stands, can handle nearly 10 million passengers, along with sustained cargo growth. Beyond our current two terminals (2 and 4) ,and considering the potential of long-term growth, there are already existing plans for Terminals 3 and 5, as well as a strategy to connect all present and future terminals into a single complex,” Fredericks said.
“As we work closely with air carriers from around the world, we have no delusions of grandeur,” Fredericks said. We know we must work extremely hard to earn their business by striving to reduce their operating costs at ONT while creating the best environment possible for passengers,” he said.
Fredericks said he and his staff are working on a plan to “de-stealth” the airport and to re-introduce the airport as a valuable asset to all of Southern California. “As we work to grow international air service through our development efforts, we must also re-introduce ONT to the region,” he said. “According to the 2015 U.S. Census, the Ontario-Riverside-San Bernardino Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) ranks 15th in the United States and is in the nation’s 2nd largest Combined Statistical Area (Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim). We have tremendous numbers in our primary and secondary catchment area, but we have to get the word out about what we are trying to do so people will consciously think about flying from Ontario first,” he said.
Fredericks said the “de-stealthing” campaign will be about building attention and awareness for the airport and willbe conducted through a comprehensive, targeted marketing and promotional campaign to get the message out to the business and consumer population of the region. He said he and his team will be working to connect with business and municipal leaders, as well as civic and social groups,S to encourage travelers to think about flying in and out of Ontario for their next business or leisure trip.
“If we can continue to do our best to improve the customer experience, and if we can be successful with the airlines to bring new and better service to ONT, everyone will win,” Fredericks said. “Passengers will have an easy and stress-free experience, with increased amenities, food and shopping opportunities, just minutes from home. They will reward the investment airlines make in Ontario by filling its flights to new destinations without having to battle hours of traffic to and from other airports in the region,” he added.
Room for Future Development
One of the other amazing statistics Fredericks shared was the fact that of those 1,861 acres, 700 are able and available for development on or adjacent to airside operations. “You could not build an airport of this size, with the resources and capabilities of ONT today, in this, the 2nd largest metropolitan market in the United States,” he said.
Fredericks said the OIAA is now in the final stages of a selection process to hire a firm to develop a master plan for the airport, something never done before for ONT. “The successful candidate will assist us in creating a map to guide us through the many pathways and options related to future operations and development to ensure we have the information necessary to make the best decisions possible,” Fredericks said. “The master plan process utilizes a variety of certified professionals in a number of disciplines to assist us in determining which structures are valuable and which should be demolished. It helps us understand where a former industrial complex aboard the airport may require environmental remediation prior to development. Major companies like GE and Lockheed operated factories and facilities at ONT for decades. We must evaluate each legacy property and identify any environmental issues before any development may be considered,” he said.
While Fredericks stresses the importance of the master plan process, he does not see it as any type of hindrance should the right opportunity present itself. “If the right opportunity is identified with any of our existing airport tenants, any new airline or other potential business partner, we are not restricted in any way from taking advantage of it,” he said. Fredericks said he and his team have been fielding inquiries in a number of areas, and they are working diligently to investigate the possibilities associated with each in order to determine the next best steps for the airport.
What Can You Do to Help?
Fredericks said he wishes everyone in the region to be an extension of the OIAA Marketing Team. “I ask that everyone get to know the airport, to see the things we are doing to improve the experience for our customers and to make it easy to fly Ontario,” he said.
When asked how else people interested in supporting the airport can help the efforts of the OIAA, Kelly Fredericks offered the following:
- Please use ONT – Even if you may be paying a few dollars more, demonstrating loyalty to the airport is the best way for the OIAA to recruit (and to keep) new routes from existing carriers and to encourage new airlines to begin operations at ONT.
- Please advertise at ONT – The OIAA will soon have a new media operator to manage new, expanded advertising and merchandising opportunities at the airport. If you can’t advertise, please support those companies advertising at the airport
- Please share your travel data–An e-mail address has been established–email@example.com–where you can send your itinerary when you do fly Ontario and as a place where you can share the flight data when you just can’t find the right connection from ONT. This information is extremely helpful for the air service development team in preparation for meetings they conduct with the various airlines.
- Share insights and advice – If you see something of interest in your travels, share it with the authority. If you have a problem or a bad experience, you are especially asked to share those as well. Fredericks said his staff are continuously working to improve the traveler experience, and they want to know when any situation does not meet the customer’s expectations. He said they take complaints seriously and will work with all involved airport personnel, concessionaires and tenants to solve problems as soon as they are identified, so that no customer ever has that same problem again.
For more information and to learn what is happening at the Ontario International Airport, please visit the ONT website at www.flyOntario.com. The site is optimized for mobile devices, and Fredericks said it will be a “work-in-progress” for several months as volumes of data and information are transferred from the old airport site and until such a time as the planned 18-24 transition process is complete.