Ontario International: The heart of Southern California has room to grow

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Though the name 'Ontario' drums up images of frozen highways and maybe a plate of poutine, Ontario International Airport (ONT) sits quite far away from Ontario, Canada.

Rather, it is the heart of the Inland Empire - a region in Southern California covering San Bernardino and Riverside counties, defined by a growing population (4.7 million and counting) and surging economic activity.

Perhaps more importantly, ONT is in closer proximity to Southern California's most popular attractions and gets visitors in and out of the airport, and on their way faster.

This combination of factors is fuelling the growth of ONT - named fastest-growing airport in the United States by Global Traveler five years running - and has led to its newfound successes as a cargo and passenger stalwart.

These are successes it plans to build upon.

  • The area surrounding ONT in particular is seeing an inland migration, bringing with it jobs and economic activity - and a desire for travel.
  • ONT's primary and secondary catchment areas cover more than 10 million people who live closer in proximity to ONT than to any other airport - people who need viable air travel options.
  • These areas include many popular tourism destinations for inbound travellers.
  • ONT wants to grow, and therefore has a competitive air carrier incentive program (as well as other desirable qualities) to attract to new carriers and new routes.
  • ONT is making improvements throughout the airport campus to improve the experience and operations for both passengers and businesses.

The migration to the Inland Empire, and everything that comes with it

The pandemic, housing market, and shifting priorities in people's lives led many to begin a migration inward towards the Inland Empire region.

There is demonstrable growth in the Inland Empire region, and with a growth in population comes the arrival of more jobs, more businesses, and more opportunities.

This includes $3.8 billion annually in economic activity from the airport, more business and leisure travel demand, and more people coming into the region to conduct business.

Furthermore, ONT's air cargo operation (featuring UPS, FedEx, and Amazon) ranks in the top 10 in North America.

Ontario International Airport is one of the top ten cargo facilities in North America

ONT employs 4,000 jobs at the airport, indirectly supports 27,800 jobs, and generates $9.9 billion of gross domestic product and $2.3 billion in tax revenue.

This is a long-term demand that is not going anywhere. The airport will continue to grow, and so will the opportunities for airlines, concessionaires, and other tenants to expand their business with it.

The need for travel options for millions of Southern Californians

When looking at the potential growth at ONT, there is already a strong demand.

It is one of the first airports in not only California, but the United States, to exceed its pre-pandemic passenger totals, doing so for the first time in Mar-2022.

Ontario International Airport has recovered quickly post-pandemic

The 22 nonstop destinations and the 65+ daily flights are a testament to what the people want.

ONT has even added routes - Austin, Charlotte, Honolulu, and Reno have all come to ONT since 2021 alone.

Ten million Southern California residents live or work closer to ONT than any other airport, and as ONT continues to exceed pre-pandemic passenger totals month-over-month (having done so every month since Mar-2022), more of these 10 million people are using the airport and planning their next trip.

Providing this growing population with a growing array of flight options is a necessity.

Fly into Ontario, then visit everything Southern California has to offer

What sets Ontario, California apart - and a big reason ONT thrives as an airport - is the convenience in proximity to everything Southern California is known for.

People visit this region to go to various theme parks, cheer at sporting events, see the stars and shop in Hollywood, go to the beach, visit National Parks, play some world-class golf, go skiing - yes, skiing in SoCal! - in the mountains near Big Bear, and more.

ONT is just a short drive from all those things, and its centralised location makes it an attractive option for a wide range of travellers.

It also is conveniently located between the I-10, I-15, and 210 freeways, which offers quick access by car to many of the key destinations in So Cal.

Future plans for public transportation via rail are in the works - a much-desired option, given Southern California traffic.

What makes ONT attractive to airlines

It is just as important to have reasons to attract airlines as it is to attract passengers.

Although there are a number of airports serving So Cal residents (and visitors), ONT is one of the most competitive in what it offers air carriers in space and cost.

One primary benefit to airlines is the operational efficiency and lack of restrictions around the airfield. Among other things, this means shorter taxi times, thereby saving on fuel costs, and no nighttime curfews.

Two of the longest runways in Southern California - at 12,197' and 10,200' - enable all large, widebody aircraft to land safely at ONT.

Furthermore, landing fees are among the lowest in Southern California. ONT's competitive air carrier incentive program also includes exceptional rent savings and high-quality marketing support from the airport.

Improvements both inside and out

In 2022 ONT recorded its highest passenger volume since 2008, serving 5.7 million passengers.

To keep up with demand, ONT is elevating the overall experience for not only passengers, but for the passenger and cargo airlines as well.

In the terminals, SSP America has come in to manage many of the dining options, such as Urban Crave and Tap & Pour, and more independently owned and first-of-its-kind storefronts are in the works.

Ontario International Airport handled more passengers in 2022 than any year since 2008

For example, the Anaheim-based Brewery X opening a brewpub in partnership with ONT in the terminals, featuring a first-of-its-kind Topgolf Swing Suite.

The 3Sixty Duty Free shop opened this year to serve ONT's growing international passenger totals.

On the airfield itself, the Runway Rehabilitation Project is currently in its first phase.

Over the next three years, the runways and taxiways will see pavement improvements, and the airport will be adding a second Category III Instrument Landing System - enabling both runways to bring in aircraft during low visibility times.

All these improvements, in combination with the growing need (and ability) to serve millions of passengers and its easy accessibility, make ONT the fastest and easiest gateway to and from Southern California.

Read related CAPA analysis: Ontario Airport economic impact study reveals an 'economic engine' for Southern California