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"Marketing Effort Key to Future of New Ontario, Calif., Airport"



July 14, 2000

Marketing Effort Key to Future of New Ontario, Calif., Airport
The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA


Jul. 14--ONTARIO, Calif.--As Ontario International Airport launches its
first serious marketing effort, the goal is clear: Convince the airlines to
offer new flights, more non-stop destinations and better air fares.

But whether the airport's ambitious new marketing plan, unveiled Tuesday,
will actually produce those results is a question with no simple answer.

Airlines typically don't make decisions based on marketing pitches, and the
larger issue of whether airport officials are truly committed to the plan
remains as obscured as the smog-choked sky above Ontario's under-used
runways.

"The proof will come in the execution" of the marketing plan, said John
Husing, a local economist who has been working with Ontario City Hall to
boost the airport's visibility. "The key event is not what happened
(Tuesday), but what has happened six months from now, when we can look back
and see whether anything major has come of it."

Much of the uncertainty revolves around a shaky relationship between Ontario
airport advocates and the city of Los Angeles, which has owned ONT for more
than 30 years. Los Angeles World Airports, the public agency that oversees
the city's aviation assets, has often been accused of neglecting ONT in
favor of the much larger Los Angeles International Airport, which it also
owns.

Critics say Los Angeles officials will never market ONT aggressively because
that might take business away from LAX, which is in the midst of a highly
controversial expansion plan.

"They don't have the motivation to promote Ontario," said Debbie Acker, a
travel and tourism consultant who is running for Ontario City Council and
has long criticized the airport's Los Angeles-based management. "They have
the motivation to placate their critics, but that seems to be their only
motivation."

For instance, the five-year marketing plan calls for advertising via
billboards, radio, print and direct mail, but it does not disclose an
overall budget, nor does it spell out who will pay for these efforts. Acker
said she suspects Los Angeles will try to put more of the financial burden
on Ontario airport itself and the city of Ontario.

As evidence of LA's indifference, Acker cites a recent full-page ad in the
Worldwide Airports Directory touting the merits of LAX. The ad doesn't
mention Ontario airport, nor is there a similar ad for ONT elsewhere in the
publication.

"They just placed this ad, and there is something for LA, but nothing for
Ontario," Acker said. "That's what I'm talking about."

Los Angeles officials say they are committed to promoting Ontario airport
and they do not regard the relationship between ONT and LAX as competitive.
Both airports can grow and prosper together, they say.

"They are really two different markets," said Phil Depoian, deputy executive
director of Los Angeles World Airports. "Ontario is not in competition with
LAX. That's what I keep telling the airlines."

As for the airlines, they have made it clear that ONT will get more flights
and lower fares when the demand for service increases.

So far, ONT has attracted a few more flights -- 16 since May -- but only two
major new routes: one to New York City and the other to Toronto.

Indeed, on Thursday, Southwest Airlines announced that it will add one
additional flight between Ontario and Las Vegas. But others have been
reluctant to add service.

Matthew Triaca, a spokesman for United Airlines, said there are no plans to
expand at ONT now and he doesn't expect the airport's new marketing plan to
change that.

"We schedule our service based on customer demand," Triaca said. "If we saw
a considerable increase in demand from Ontario, we would definitely look at
(adding service)."

So far, Ontario's numbers have not been impressive. Last year, the airport
handled a record-high 6.5million passengers, but that wasn't enough to meet
the airport's own growth projection of 2.5 percent over 1998. This year, the
airport's monthly traffic reports have rarely topped the 2.5 percent mark.

That's a far cry from what Ontario officials expected when they opened two
new passenger terminals in September 1998, at a cost of $270million. The
terminals can handle 10 million passengers a year.

"The airport has never fulfilled its promise, in terms of flight frequency,"
said Rolfe Shellenberger, a Palm Desert-based travel consultant who spent 31
years as a top executive at American Airlines. "And I think a lot of that
has to do with the fact that it is controlled by Los Angeles."

Still, local officials are hopeful that Los Angeles' new commitment to
marketing Ontario airport will produce results soon.

In addition to extensive advertising, the marketing plan seeks to increase
Ontario's presence at industry trade shows and target certain markets -- New
York City, Honolulu, Washington D.C., Boston and Albuquerque -- for new
non-stop flight service.

"I think it's a very well researched, well thought-out marketing plan," said
Ontario city manager Greg Devereaux. "I think it will absolutely, if
followed, lead to more passenger and cargo traffic. And I have no reason to
believe it won't be followed."

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