Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Ontario Airport: The first 100 days of local control reveal surprises, growing pains
By Liset Márquez
The Inland Valley (CA) Daily Bulletin
Custodian supervisor David Becerril, mops the front lobby of the Ontario Airport Administration Office, Tuesday afternoon. The front lobby of the administration office which got a complete overhaul and was finished in January, just before the Ontario International Airport Authority board meeting.
ONTARIO - It’s been a whirlwind for Ontario International Airport Authority CEO Kelly Fredericks since Ontario regained local control of the airport Nov. 1.
Beyond some of the more visible changes — new signs and a coffee cart in the terminals — in taking over 1,700 acres of property, there’s bound to be changes the traveling public doesn’t necessarily see.
There also have been a lot of firsts and unknowns during the authority’s first 100 days, a milestone being reached Wednesday.
Fredericks and members of his administrative staff are busy finalizing a branded logo for the airport, looking into allowing ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber, attending frequent meetings with air carriers and concessionaires, as well as restructuring the pet therapy program.
Even something as simple as the lost and found has to be revisited by the authority.
A ‘startup company’
“As a startup company, we are doing a lot of the foundational stuff. We are preparing an employee handbook, we are working on compliance issues,” Fredericks said.
He acknowledged some decisions will be carried out in phases, which may take as many as five years.
“Almost everything that was passed in the resolutions that allowed the operation of the airport to be turned over Nov. 1, we now have to revisit under the OIAA,” the authority’s Chief Marketing Officer Dan Adamus said.
One of the more important behind-the-scenes work of the authority — that the public wants to see — is getting new flights, Fredericks said.
“This is by far and away the most aggressive air service development program that I’ve been a part of,” said Fredericks, who has previously worked at the T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, and Erie Municipal Airport Authority in Colorado.
The focus of the authority will be to add service to cities such as Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York but also to attract international carriers that fly to London, Germany and Paris, among other destinations.
That means trying to convince carriers like JetBlue to return, current carriers to add routes, or entirely new carriers that haven’t served ONT, Fredericks said.
Which in part is why the authority decided to give its front door an overhaul. Over the holidays, the lobby of the administrative office on the south end of the airport was gutted and replaced with new flooring and enclosed in glass, Fredericks said. But don’t think it too extravagant; the authority was cost-conscious, even purchasing items from Craigslist. The work was completed in January.
“We made some modest improvements because we expect presidents and industry leaders to visit,” he said.
There have been some minor setbacks, which are to be expected, Fredericks added. Plans to transition staff as employees of Los Angeles World Airports to the authority were pushed back from Feb. 1 to 13. Fredericks said he couldn’t release details but said the positions being reviewed are based on function and not personnel. For example, the public safety portion will be contracted out to the Ontario police and fire departments.
The first three months also have meant making unexpected discoveries. Among those was the Flight Path Museum near the administration offices.
“It’s an amazing historical trip for this airport and this region,” Fredericks said, adding he would like to display items from the museum in the terminals.
The after-purchase inspection was revealing for Chief Operating Officer Bruce Atlas.
“We indeed did purchase a fixer-upper and we’re in the process of fixing her up,” he said.
Atlas, who oversees the day-to-day operations at the airport, said it took the recent severe storms for him to gauge the conditions of the roofs.
“I’m pleased to say they are in better condition than we thought they were,” he told airport commissioners at their monthly meeting in late January.
His work in the coming weeks will be ongoing assessments of the major systems, such as electrical and water. Atlas said he plans to convert some internal procedures, which were being done by hand, to automated systems.
Meanwhile, the authority’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Reynolds learned LAWA did not transfer any of its accounting systems over to the authority, leaving him to start from scratch.
“We didn’t have the time or the ability to review systems, so we decided to go with QuickBooks just so we could get up and running and at least print checks,” he told the authority at a Jan. 23 meeting.
Reynolds currently has four accountants on his staff, all from LAWA, who will transition to the authority.
Since QuickBooks obviously won’t meet the daily requirements for the airport authority, Reynolds said he is looking for a comprehensive program that would provide financial and accounting services. Once it’s acquired, the new enterprise system should be up and running within four months, he said.
Throughout the first 100 days, Fredericks said the five-member commission has been guiding staff through the transition. The commissioners sit on various ad hoc committees and have been meeting with the director on a weekly basis to discuss a range of topics, from marketing to air service. Fredericks expects that to continue for the next several months.
“The OIAA is and always will serve as the first and last impression for our travelers,” he said.
Jurupa Valley Councilwoman Laura Roughton is one of the few members of the public who has been present at most commission meetings. Just as Jurupa Valley went from an unincorporated area to a bona fide city, she recognizes the growing pains.
“I think that CEO Fredericks hits the nail on the head when he refers to ONT as a startup. It existed as an entity run by a far-off organization, and now it is reborn or restarted, you might say, under local control,” she said Monday night in an email.