Runway to Reopen at Ontario Int'l Airport

Mar. 21--ONTARIO -- A newly renovated runway at Ontario International Airport was welcomed Monday by officials from three cities who cheered the potential for luring more traffic to ONT and away from Los Angeles.

Though the construction work on runway 26R-8L won't be finished for several more days, those at the kickoff event promised that its completion would bring the airport up to speed.

"There is no doubt as to the importance of this particular facility," said San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt. "It is very vital to all of us."

Councilman Bill Rosendahl of Los Angeles and El Segundo Mayor Kelly McDowell repeated the oft-heard prediction that ONT will soon play a bigger part in Southern California's regional air traffic picture.

Both men represent areas that have complained for decades about noise, traffic and pollution resulting from ever-increasing traffic at Los Angeles International Airport, and expanding ONT would mean fewer of those concerns at LAX, they said.

"No one could be a more enthusiastic partner in helping Ontario Airport grow and serve Southern California than the people of El Segundo," McDowell said. "Whatever you need, just pick up the phone."

Rosendahl agreed, shouting through the roar of a Southwest Airlines jet flying overhead: "We want to hear more of this, in the weeks and months ahead, out of Ontario."

Regional planners have long anticipated that the Ontario air field could relieve congestion at LAX. The Southern California Association of Governments projects 30 million passengers each year for ONT by 2030.

But those visions haven't yet been realized. Last year, ONT set a record with 7.2 million passengers, but it grew at a slower rate than other airports in Southern California, such as Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and John Wayne in Orange County.

The runway, one of two at ONT, closed for renovation in May of last year. Work performed included replacing the asphalt pavement with harder concrete, as well as installing a system of center-line landing lights for the first time.

Signs, runway lights, storm drains, service roads and an electrical vault were rebuilt.

The $50-million project also upgraded the taxiways leading from the terminal to the runway to accommodate new, larger aircraft, such as the Airbus 380, a 555-seat jumbo jet that will go into commercial use later this year.

"This is really important for those new aircraft, so they don't just have to fly to LAX," said Lydia Kennard, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that operates ONT.

Once the renovation is complete, the airport's other runway will close for similar work. All of the airport's flights can be handled on a single runway with minimal impact on daily operations.

Ontario Mayor Paul Leon said the runway improvements are just one step in an ongoing process to transform ONT from "best-kept secret" to a major player on the regional air traffic scene.

"It is a secret," he said. "We don't want it to remain that way. It's a secret to many people, but the word is getting out."