Southern California's Ontario International Sees Big Growth Potential

The airport is benefiting from people moving inland from California’s coast, an executive tells Routes.

Credit: Kevin Griffin / Alamy Stock Photo

Ontario International Airport (ONT) is pitching to airlines that it is more than just an alternative for Los Angeles (LAX) as it aggressively seeks to attract more air service.

At last week's Routes World 2022 conference in Las Vegas, a banner above ONT's stand in the exhibit hall read: “Conveniently located in Southern California, Not Canada.” ONT chief marketing and air service strategy officer Mark Haneke told Routes that the airport has a huge catchment area of its own.

The high cost of living on the Californian coast has been an upside to the region known as the Inland Empire served by ONT. “People are leaving LA and the [San Francisco] Bay Area, but want to stay in the state, so they are moving inland," he explained.

The area’s prominence as a manufacturing and logistics hub with a diversifying populace is a boon to the airport, Haneke said. Inbound leisure has also come into play with ONT located about the same distance from Disneyland in Anaheim as LAX and closer to Joshua Tree National Park and popular Palm Springs resorts than LAX.

Haneke’s team is courting airline network planners. “We are fully competitive with the general offerings of other airports with facilities, fee waivers and marketing support,” he said.

ONT has achieved a full traffic recovery, Haneke said: “For the last seven months, we've actually been handling greater than 2019 [monthly] traffic levels."

Catch Up On Routes World 2022

In terms of seats offered, ONT is up 10% over October 2019. Avianca inaugurated flights to San Salvador (SAL) in 2021. Taiwan's China Airlines is upping its Airbus A350 frequencies between ONT and Taipei (TPE) from 2X- to 4X-weekly.

Ontario has reaped the benefits of ULCC Frontier Airlines discontinuing its LAX service last year. Frontier has more than tripled its available seats offered from ONT and moved into second position in market share at 14% behind long-time leader Southwest Airlines, which has a 43% share.

ONT currently has 23 city-pairs on its route roster operated by 11 carriers. Haneke said the airport has an appetite for new dots on the US map, with targets including Boston (BOS), Minneapolis (MSP), Nashville (BNA), San Antonio (SAT), St. Louis (STL) and Washington (IAD/DCA). The airport also wants connections to Los Cabos (SJD) and Mexico City (MEX) in Mexico; additional islands in Hawaii joining Hawaiian Airlines' current Airbus A321neo ONT-Honolulu (HNL) flights; and more points in Asia.

Europe is also a priority. Startup Norse Atlantic Airways plans to open a Boeing 787 route between ONT and London Gatwick (LGW) in 2023.

Haneke said “it's just a matter of time” before ULCCs other than Frontier—such as Allegiant Air, Avelo Airlines and Breeze Airways—start flying to the airport.

ONT handled 5.6 million passengers in 2019, but Haneke said this total can be well exceeded in the future: “I think it's very easy for us within the next few years to achieve 10-15 million passengers annually.”