With the expansion of LAX mired in turmoil, another L.A. airport is doubling its capacity with nary a peep from local politicians, homeowners or environmentalists.

Ontario International Airport, which is owned and operated by the L.A. Department of Airports, is completing a major expansion that includes a pair of new 265,000-square-foot passenger terminals, a transportation center, parking lot and roadway system.

When the $250 million project is completed, as expected this September, the airport will be eight times larger than the current facility and able to accommodate 10 million annual passengers. That compares with the 6.5 million who traveled through the airport in 1997.

Ontario officials say the expansion will enable the airport to satisfy increasing demand for air travel in the fast-growing Inland Empire, and position the city as the area's dominant transit and business hub.

And in stark contrast to the increasingly bitter fight over LAX's controversial master plan, there appears to be little, if any, organized opposition to those ambitions. Even the local Sierra Club chapter has not raised objections.

"We're all looking forward to the expansion here," said Alan Wapner, the city's mayor pro tem.

Such enthusiasm is welcomed by opponents of the LAX master plan, led by L.A. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who argue that rather than boosting the capacity of Los Angeles International Airport, the city instead should consider a regional approach to meeting air transportation demand.

"They shouldn't be doing an LAX master plan, they should be doing a Department of Airports master plan," Galanter said. "Ontario is in one growth area of the Southern California metropolis. It is an appropriate place to look at increasing air service."

The city of L.A., which purchased the Ontario facility in 1967 as a backup to LAX, also owns airports in Palmdale and Van Nuys.

Opponents of expanding LAX insist that Palmdale, where the city owns some 18,000 acres of land, could be a viable alternative particularly if the airport is connected to the rest of L.A. with a high-speed rail link. But Palmdale recently lost its sole commercial carrier when Shuttle By United canceled its commuter flights to LAX.

Elsewhere in the region, Burbank, John Wayne and Long Beach airports already offer commercial airline service, although the three operate under varying capacity constraints and their future growth is in question.

In addition, airfields exist at several former Air Force bases El Toro in Orange County, March in Riverside and Norton in San Bernardino that planners say could be developed into commercial operations. And a small municipal airport in Oxnard, which sends eight commuter flights a day to LAX, is another airport that could potentially pick up additional capacity.

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