Two years after Hawaiian Airlines left Ontario International Airport, another airline plans to restore service to the resort islands.
Indianapolis-based ATA Airlines, which is preparing to emerge from bankruptcy court next month, will begin daily service from Ontario International to Honolulu in April.
The airline will also offer service to Maui and Hilo on flights connecting through Oakland.
Rick Hightower, a spokesman for ATA Airlines, said the company will use 160-seat Boeing 737-800 aircraft on the route.
The planes hold 100 fewer passengers than the Boeing 767s used by Hawaiian Airlines.
At the time of its 2004 withdrawal from the Ontario market, Hawaiian Airlines officials said flights from Ontario were little more than half-filled. It was the airline's second attempt to establish profitable service between the Inland Empire and Honolulu.
The move by ATA Airlines also signals an expansion of a code-share agreement with Southwest Airlines - the largest carrier at Ontario International. Passengers can buy ATA tickets on Southwest Airlines' Web site.
Southwest planes will also connect Ontario passengers to ATA's Hawaii flights out of Oakland.
The airline's expansion follows the busiest year at Ontario International Airport. The airport topped 7 million passengers for the first time and grew 4 percent over 2004.
ATA's announcement is also the latest in a recent string of new-service announcements for the airport. In September, United Airlines, via low-cost spin-off Ted, re-established daily flights to San Francisco. JetBlue Airways also added a second daily nonstop to New York.
In December, Aeromexico established service to Aguascalientes, El Bajio/Leon and Morelia, three destinations in central Mexico.
JetBlue has now cut the second flight. However, airport spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin said the airline will resume the flight on a seasonal basis later this year.
Ontario International has been buoyed by a broad increase in air travel. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, domestic travel grew 4.6 percent through last October, compared to the first 10 months of 2004. The FAA has not released data for November and December.
Last year marked the third consecutive growth year for the airport after losing ground in consecutive years after the 2001 terrorist attacks. By the end of 2003, the airport had lost all passenger gains it attained since 1999.
Ontario International has now posted growth in 22 of the past 24 months, growing by nearly 700,000 yearly passengers - more than 10 percent - in that period.
Mark Thorpe, director of air service marketing for Ontario International Airport, said further growth might be limited by capacity.
"The growth we've had is amazing when you think how little capacity was added," he said. With full flights going in and out of the airport, Thorpe also said the airport's only chance to grow will come from persuading more airlines to establish service to Ontario.
The recent additions from Ted, Aeromexico, JetBlue and now ATA should support another boost in passenger traffic this year.
The airport's twin terminals were designed to handle about double today's volume. Los Angeles World Airports, the city of Los Angeles agency that owns and operates Ontario International along with LAX and airports in Palmdale and Van Nuys, will begin expansion work once the airport tops 10 million passengers in consecutive years.
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The airline is emerging from bankruptcy with $100 MILLION in new capital from MatlinPatterson Global Opportunities Partners.
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