Thirty million might sound like a lot of people, but to officials at Ontario International Airport, the number is nothing to be daunted by.
That total is what regional planners routinely cite when they talk about the future of air travel in Southern California.
Some day in the future, ONT will handle 30 million passengers a year, absorbing much of the demand that other airports in Los Angeles and Orange County can't.
Airport officials at ONT are working to make sure that the airport remains a good neighbor --- through initiatives such as a natural gas refueling station for airport vehicles to reduce pollution in the region.
"Since passenger traffic at ONT is growing steadily, along with the area's population growth, timely initiation of the (natural gas) program is essential," said Airport Manager Jess Romo earlier this year.
Predictions of 30 million travelers at ONT won't materialize any time soon. According to the Southern California Association of Governments, that total is the airport's target 25 years from now.
In the meantime, ONT continues to grow at a moderate pace, serving about a quarter of the predictions for the future. Last year's total of 7.2 million travelers set a record for the airport, though statistics so far this year indicate it won't be broken in 2006.
In the current regional air travel picture, ONT is one of the several airports surrounding Los Angeles whose passenger totals are dwarfed by LAX.
John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana is the region's second-busiest airport, with 9.6 million passengers in 2005. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank flew 5.5 million the same year.
In the future, however, planners like those at the Southern California Association of Governments predict that will change.
Other airports in Southern California are constrained from further growth by their locations or by agreements with local residents.
ONT has no such restrictions.
"Ontario is becoming Southern California's version of Kennedy Airport (in New York): the second major airport," said Jeff Lustgarten, a SCAG spokesman.
ONT is expected to play a large role in the region's cargo picture as well. The airport currently handles about 20 percent of the region's air freight, but that number should increase to 25 percent within a few decades.
To that end, the airport recently completed an upgrade to one of its runways and began work on the other, which will allow ONT to handle next-generation jumbo jets like the Airbus 380.
Air freight analysts believe those wide-body airplanes will make up the bulk of the international cargo fleet in the future.
Plans for expanding the airport won't go into effect until ONT serves 10 million passengers for two years in a row. At last year's rate of growth, that will happen in 2019.
However, the future could come screaming into Ontario more quickly if officials in Los Angeles take stronger steps toward regionalizing air traffic.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa outlined a proposal to make international flights the focus for LAX, while more domestic flights could be moved to ONT and other outlying airports.
Regional planners welcomed that move.
"We welcome the opportunity to work with LAWA to develop a truly regional airport system that minimizes growing pressures on LAX and maximizes use of Southern California's airport needs," said Mark Pisano, executive director of SCAG.
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