Why Ontario International Airport in California is such an important cargo hub

Recognized as a promising “alternative” to other nearby hubs, Ontario International Airport (ONT) is one of the fastest growing in the world and a major source of its growth can be traced to its cargo operations.


Although many airports and airlines have found stability with air cargo during the pandemic, ONT was one of the few to see numbers double from 2019. Its proximity to several highways and logistics companies in demand increased freight services more than ever.


Overview of Ontario International Airport

Owned by the Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA), ONT is located in Southern California, two miles east of downtown Ontario. With its two terminals, the airport serves 25 destinations nonstop, including Taiwan, which is, surprisingly, its fourth busiest route.

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While Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is California’s central hub, its metropolitan alternatives include ONT, Long Beach Airport (LGB), John Wayne Santa Ana Airport (SNA), and Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR).

The ONT is in a unique position to thrive as costs continue to rise at LAX, and airlines have recently ditched the busiest airports in favor of cheaper ones. In 2021, Frontier Airlines announced that it would suspend operations at LAX and transition to ONT.

To take advantage of rising fares at other airports, ONT has reduced its operating costs and made it much more attractive to airlines. In January 2022, the OIAA authorized the ONT to reduce its landing fees and other airline costs, which was made possible by higher growth in passenger demand. The airport ultimately cut operating expenses by $2.1 million in the last six months of 2021.

Ontario International Airport continues to grow its cargo market with the help of Amazon Air as a major export customer. Photo: Ontario International Airport (ONT)

ONT’s cargo operations grow in a decade

The reason ONT stands out when it comes to freight is its customers. It is the West Coast air hub for some of the largest delivery services, such as UPS Airlines, FedEx Express, and Amazon Air. Its growing success has led it to the Top 10 busiest cargo airports in North America. Additionally, in December 2021, it was announced as the fastest growing airport for the fourth time.

But that wasn’t always the case. To put it in numbers, in 2011 the airport handled 417,686 tons of cargo, and ten years later, in 2021 (even during the pandemic), the number had doubled to 890,383 tons.

ONT’s freight levels have increased significantly over the past ten years. Photo: Ontario International Airport (ONT)

CEO Atif Elkadi, speaking with Airport World in July, again paid tribute to ONT’s location in the Inland Empire, close to Southern California’s vast supply chain. He said:

“Freight is a critical part of our overall business operations and one more reason why ONT is such an important economic driver for our region. It’s all too easy to overlook the importance of freight, which for us is a quiet source of revenue, aided, of course, by our location and nearby interstate road and rail connections. We all like to talk about passenger services, and that’s great, but cargo is also a big part of our success story.

The airport’s other major cargo customers are Aloha Air Cargo, Alpine Air Express, Asia-Pacific Airlines, Kalitta Air and others.

Freight has been the lifeblood of the ONT during the pandemic

Air cargo was one of the few operations that helped airlines stay afloat during the height of the pandemic. Indeed, while most nations locked down their citizens, effectively closing borders, the only movement was that of goods, especially with the surge in online shopping. This is what led the ONT to shine.

ONT has become one of two US airports to double its air cargo traffic from pre-pandemic levels. After Ted Stevens Airport in Anchorage, Alaska, Ontario increased its commercial cargo shipments by 18.2% over 2019. Mark Thorpe, CEO of the Ontario International Airports Authority, told the time :

“I’m not surprised we got these freight numbers. Ontario Airport is one of the most important places in the world for e-commerce growth because of all the e-warehouses (in the area) and because we are located at the corner of highways 10 and 15. »

While Thorpe wasn’t surprised by ONT’s cargo growth, he was shocked that Cincinnati and Louisville airports reported only a slight increase. Cincinnati has the DHL hub and Louisville has UPS worldwide. FedEx’s completed 51-acre expansion also pushed freight improvements in November 2020, which can now process thousands more packages per hour.

One of UPS World Services’ main hubs is at Ontario International Airport. Photo: Ontario International Airport (ONT)

In 2021, while ONT saw a significant recovery in passenger traffic, its air cargo operations declined compared to 2020. While still higher than 2019, it carried 33,777 tonnes less than in 2020. Now in 2022, the airport is maintaining steady growth. . The ONT processed 7.03% less in January than in 2021, but its latest July figures showed a slight increase of 3.31% less than last year. Above all, these figures are even more robust than in 2019.

With the plethora of recent funding granted to ONT by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in excess of $20 million, the airport is expected to improve its infrastructure in the years to come.

Sources: airport world, Ontario,

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