Opening in Los Angeles Could Affect Ontario Airport

Oct. 4--ONTARIO -- Another top appointment in Los Angeles may soon impact operations at Ontario International Airport.

The Board of Airport Commissioners recently named Lydia Kennard as executive director of Los Angeles World Airports -- the agency that owns and operates ONT, as well as Los Angeles International, Van Nuys and Palmdale Regional.

"Lydia Kennard is eminently qualified to take the leadership role in ensuring our four airports do their part to meet the demand for passenger and cargo air service in the 21st century," board President Valeria Velasco said in a statement.

Kennard had previously served as executive director of LAWA from 2000 to 2003, before resigning to pursue a career in the private sector.

With the appointment, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa further shapes how Southern California deals with anticipated growth in air traffic. Although the executive director works for the Board of Airport Commissioners -- also chosen by the mayor -- that individual also runs the agency's day-to-day operations.

"The commissioners are directly appointed by the mayor," said Maria Tesoro-Fermin, spokeswoman for ONT. "The executive director executes the commission's policies and directives."

Villaraigosa promised during his campaign that he would favor a "regional approach" to handling the growing number of air travelers in the area -- meaning he wants to see airports other than LAX shoulder more of the burden.

In a June speech before he took office, Villaraigosa told Los Angeles-area business leaders that air traffic growth should take place in areas such as Ontario and Palmdale, where the city also owns an air field.

"We know we are going to grow, but where is that growth going? It is in Palmdale, it is in Ontario," he said. "Growing Ontario, growing Palmdale makes sense."

Villaraigosa has made several appointments to the Board of Airport Commissioners, which oversees policy at the city's airports.

Among those appointments were a planner for the Southern California Association of Governments, which has advocated spreading the region's air traffic to airports other than Los Angeles International; and the president of a community organization opposed to LAX expansion.

Those moves signal the mayor's willingness to work toward a plan that would include significant expansion for ONT, which handles nearly 7 million passengers each year.

Although the city of Los Angeles has been involved with ONT since 1967 and took full ownership in 1985, planning to expand LAX has long dominated the vision of previous mayors and airport commissioners.

Former Mayor Richard Riordan hoped to increase LAX's annual passengers from its current limit of 78 million to more than 100 million. The plan never got off the ground. His successor, James Hahn, backed a scaled-down version of the plan, which also ran into opposition from environmentalists and area residents.

Villaraigosa's talk of expanding airports other than LAX would be good news for Ontario, which has long been seen as an underused airport.

"Something that we strongly want, and have strongly encouraged as well, is to attract more carriers and more cargo to the airport," Tesoro-Fermin said.

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