Now a nonprofit has formed with the mission to get a new ally in the fight: the business community.
The Ontario Airport Alliance is comprised of prominent community and business leaders who feel it is now up to this region to mobilize efforts for local control.
One of the main objectives for the alliance will be advocating for new management of the struggling airport as well as developing a much-needed marketing plan. And it hopes the financial support and clout of the business community will apply pressure on Los Angeles World Airports, which owns and manages ONT and Los Angeles International Airport, to relinquish the asset to a regional authority.
ONT has seen an exodus of airlines and flight availability in the past four years which has resulted in 4.5 million passengers traveling in and out the facility, figures last seen in the 1980s when the original terminal was used.
"We've gotten to the point that it's beyond ridiculous," said Steve PonTell a founding member of the alliance, who called the situation at the airport one of the three most pressing issues facing the Inland Empire.
Which is why the alliance will focus on "the very best way that can lead to increase (in flights) - which we believe is local control," he said.
From ONT's undeveloped and unkempt property west of the facility to it being one of the costliest airports in the region, LAWA has demonstrated it is not fit to manage the airport, PonTell said.
And with the financial support of the business sector, the alliance will launch their own marketing plan to improve the situation at ONT.
It also hopes to serve as a support entity to the newly formed Ontario International Airport Authority, which would manage the airport if transfer were to occur,
PonTell admits businesses in the Inland Empire have not had a presence in Ontario's multiyear battle for the airport.
It's that lack of involvement that made the alliance realize the business community did not have any leverage in the discussions, said Stephen Larson, a founding member of the alliance and a former U.S. District Court judge.
They already have have the backing of California Steel Industries which could help the alliance attract an untapped market of businesses and travelers from the San Gabriel Valley, he said.
"If we're going to be here, we have to bring the economic resources here," Larson said referring to traffic at ONT.
Larson admits the alliance won't have all the solutions, but with some economic influence, they hope to make some progress.
"It's in everybody's best interest that passenger traffic continue to increase because this could be a multiyear battle," he said.
And that sphere of influence will not just be limited to the business community. They also hope to leave a mark with the state and federal legislatures, PonTell said.
Taking a political position is something that Ontario or the airport authority do not have the liberty to do, but PonTell said if need be, they will.
PonTell said they will consider political action if the ongoing discussions between the airport authority and the city of Los Angeles stalls. PonTell said there is speculation that Los Angeles may take a "delay and conquer" strategy with the negotiations, waiting for a new mayor to come in who may change the city's stance.
Their action may involve working with consultants, advisers or even helping draft legislation for transfer of ownership.
At the same time, PonTell said he is not opposed to working with LAWA officials on the airport's current situation, they even opened up their meetings to a LAWA representative.
While the group has been in the formation process for the past year, behind the scenes, they are already lending their support to the authority. The alliance commissioned two reports - one from economist John Husing and another from The Planning Center - evaluating the airport's impact to the region. Ontario used the reports during the congressional hearing last month on the airport.
The founding members have met several times and the last meeting drew about 40. Because the nonprofit is still in its infancy stages, PonTell said they have not defined a schedule for meetings.
The alliance has managed to already spark an interest from some area businesses in the hotel industry such as the newly remodeled and expanded Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center .
Among the founding members is Steve Eckerson, general manager of the Citizens Business Bank Arena.
"We're preaching to the converted," says Eckerson whose new post includes chairman of the board of directors for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
The loss of flights to ONT has also meant more-than-usual empty hotel rooms, he said. In the Inland Empire, the hotel industry is one of the sectors' most affected by the passenger traffic woes at the airport. But Eckerson contends this is still an issue for other industries. If people aren't staying in area hotels, then that means neighboring restaurants, coffee shops and stores are not benefiting from their patronage, he said.
In order to accomplish their objectives the trio know they have to raise some capital.
The nonprofit has some lofty financial goals and it hopes to meet them through the participation of the business community.
It is accepting donations from as little as $100 and upwards of $10,000 and higher. Those contributions earn the donor everything from being featured on the website to a seat on the alliance's board of directors. In between, it also means donors can gain entrance to several state of the city events.
Those contributions, which will be considered membership dues, will be the base of revenues for the nonprofit.
In its first year, they are looking to bring in at least $260,000 in membership dues and another $100,000 in grants.
"It's not a hard sell to get businesses on board, the hard sell is getting the money," Larson said.
There are 13,500 business licenses in Ontario alone, if they can get at least $100 from each one of those, then that would give the alliance a solid foundation to work off, he said.
It will use those funds to foster better relationships between local businesses and the airlines serving ONT. PonTell, who used to serve on the board of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce 25 years ago, said the chamber used to be heavily involved in airlines coming to ONT. Those kind of business relationships don't exist.
The alliance will interact not only with the airlines, but the aviation community to promote use.
It will also use funds to develop a marketing plan, one that will help promote flights but businesses in the community. One idea could be developing a coupon book with discounts from area businesses, that are given to travelers. They will also consider promotional material such as billboards.
Their marketing plans will depend on how much can be raised and how quickly they achieve it.
"The community needs to pay attention to what's happened. I think we took (ONT) for granted for too long," he said. "Hopefully it's not too late."
Reach Liset via email, call her at 909-483-8556, or find her on Twitter @DBOntarioNow.