You might recall that the mayor-elect came out against moving the northern runway 260 feet closer to Westchester (though still within the confines of LAX). That, of course, won him support among nearby residents who have been grousing about airport expansion for decades. Trouble is, most everybody else, including business leaders and elected officials, is okay with moving the runway, especially since it's part of an overall modernization plan that would also include a car rental facility and additional terminal space. Garcetti doesn't have a problem with those goodies - he just doesn't want them tied up with the runway issue (and he has a point). Anyway, several parties have filed suit to block the runway project, which has received the blessing of the City Council but is undoubtedly years away from happening. From this week's Business Update on KPCC (Susanne Whatley fills for Steve Julian who is working the station's pledge drive):
Susanne Whatley: If everyone agrees that the airport needs work, why all the delays?
Mark Lacter: You really have to pull back, Susanne - back to the 1940s when real estate developers were allowed to build homes on land that was close to what is now the runway. Remember that in those years, the area around the airport was a big center for airplane manufacturing, and the folks working in those factories liked the idea of living nearby. The problem is that when air travel exploded, there was no room for expansion. (You know, back in the 60s, there was a big push for having a major airport in the Antelope Valley and you can see how far that went.) The good news is that LAX has undergone any number of improvements in recent years, most notably the expansion of the Bradley international terminal - that will be fully completed next year and that alone is a big deal.
Whatley: If LAX is bursting, wouldn't it make sense to add more flights out of Ontario?
Lacter: Well, city officials in Ontario would say yes to that. Ontario Airport is operated by the city of L.A. (has been going back to the 1960s), and in recent years passenger levels have been plunging. Now, the assumption has been that it was tough economic times in the Inland Empire that caused a drop in demand, and that might have been true during the recession, but it's not true now. Part of why Ontario is such a ghost town is that the airlines have focused more on saving money by flying to LAX. Why not Ontario? It's too expensive for them to fly there. That's because landing fees and other operating costs are among the highest in the country.
Whatley: Does that mean fares are higher than at LAX?
Lacter: It does - that's the only way they can make money on Ontario routes. Actually, that works on flights that are heavy on business travelers. But, leisure travelers don't want to that much - even if it means driving 40 or 50 miles to LAX.