Ontario International Enjoys Passenger Boost

Ontario International Enjoys Passenger Boost

This article has been revised and updated from the original version.

Ontario International Airport has emerged as the star performer among the four airports serving Los Angeles County, with April passenger counts soaring nearly 20% above pre-pandemic levels and recording the highest monthly total of international passengers in the airport’s history.

None of the other airports came close to these levels in April. The county’s largest airport, Los Angeles International, turned in another sluggish performance, especially on the domestic-passenger front. Hollywood Burbank Airport actually saw its year-over-year passenger count drop slightly. Long Beach Airport, while it has recovered significantly over the past year, is still just 2% above pre-pandemic levels.

On the cargo front, the picture was considerably bleaker. After a huge surge during the early phases of the pandemic, total cargo tonnage handled at the four airports has now slipped nearly 5% below pre-pandemic levels.

Ontario soars

More than 530,000 passengers went through the gates at Ontario International Airport in April, up 12% from the same month a year ago and up 19% from pre-pandemic April 2019. In fact, that total is the highest number since the Great Recession hit in 2008.

Airport officials were also quick to tout that the 34,435 international passengers that went through Ontario’s gates in April was the highest monthly total in the airport’s 100-year history. Airport officials began marketing the airport extensively internationally only about six years ago, shortly after Los Angeles World Airports – the agency that runs LAX – handed Ontario airport back over to local control.

“At a time when many California airports are struggling to restore international services, Ontario is experiencing strong growth and we expect that trend to continue in the coming months,” Atif Elkadi, chief executive of the Ontario International Airport Authority, said in the authority’s announcement of the April stats.

April was a mixed bag for the other two regional airports – Burbank and Long Beach. 

At Burbank, April’s total of 506,000 passengers was down 1.3% from the same month a year ago – the only one of the four airports serving the county to register a year-over-year decline. Nonetheless, the airport still saw 4% more passengers than in pre-pandemic April 2019.

And Long Beach, the smallest of the four airports by passenger volume, saw a 10% increase in April from last year to 303,000 passengers. But passenger counts at the municipal airport have been hovering right around the pre-pandemic levels for most of the year; in April, it nudged 2% over pre-pandemic April 2019.

LAX domestic stall

Meanwhile, at LAX, the recovery has now become two distinct tracks. International passenger traffic continues its significant rebound – April’s 1.75 million international travelers was nearly 39% above the same month a year ago. The ebbing of the Covid-19 pandemic and the easing international travel restrictions have sustained this rebound over the past 18 months.

But domestic passenger traffic growth, which had been powering LAX’s recovery through last year, has now nearly stalled. LAX saw 4.27 million domestic passengers in April, up a mere 2% from April of last year.

As a result, both international and domestic traffic at LAX are now at about 17% below pre-pandemic 2019. 

Because domestic traffic still makes up about 70% of overall passenger traffic at LAX, this near-stalling of growth means the airport will likely take another couple of years to recover fully from the effects of the pandemic shutdown.

Previously, Los Angeles World Airports Chief Executive Justin Erbacci had said the slowdown was due to airlines trimming the number of planned flights this year to avoid the personnel shortages and flight cancellations that plagued the nation last summer.

Cargo plunge 

The severe drops in cargo tonnage handled at the four airports serving Los Angeles County continued in April, completely wiping out the pandemic cargo surge and then some.

Overall, 245,000 tons of cargo were handled at the four airports in April, down 20% from the same month last year and down nearly 5% from pre-pandemic April 2019. That’s the first time in three years cargo levels were lower than prior to the pandemic.

LAX and Ontario handle roughly 98% of the total cargo passing through the four airports.

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