As a longtime Orange County resident and business owner at John Wayne Airport (SNA), I welcome the attention our County is giving to general aviation at the airport. Since I started my business, West Coast Charters, we have been employing local residents and providing flight services to small, medium and large businesses throughout Orange County.
SNA currently has two full-service Fixed Base Operations (FBOs) that house general aviation companies such as mine. FBOs act like landlords at the airport for general aviation businesses like mine. Instead of having aviation maintenance companies, flight schools, charter companies, aviation insurance agents, and other businesses scattered across the airfield, general aviation businesses operate under one-roof, a Fixed Base Operation.
While the FBO structures at SNA are still functional, they are long overdue to be upgraded. Many of the existing structures date back to the 1960’s. But since the airport is owned by the County, any new construction and upgrades must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
To determine which FBO companies would be given permission to build, operate and manage the updated FBOs, the Board of Supervisors developed and released a Request for Proposals (RFP) on September 12, 2019. As part of the Board’s approval process, each of the proposals submitted was scored by an independent review panel of aviation experts chosen by the County. The scoring included: experience, background of financing and developing FBO’s, financial strength, quality of development, management experience and other important factors that will ensure the airport maintains its world-class reputation.
Of the four applicants that submitted applications for the FBO of Northwest side of the airport, Atlantic Aviation received the highest rating by the independent review panel, 95 out of a possible 100. This scoring reflects that the County’s experts recognize that with locations at 70 airports nationwide, businesses at SNA rely on Atlantic Aviation’s safety record, training standards, and volume fuel prices.
Despite Atlantic Aviation being the rated the most qualified FBO by the County, last week three members of the Board of Supervisors voted to enter into exclusive contract negotiations with Clay Lacy, a Los Angeles company that only received a score of 78.6.
Clay Lacy currently operates a facility at a non-commercial airport in Van Nuys. When has our airport ever been in the same league as Van Nuys Airport? Orange County is a major commercial and general aviation airport with operators like Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, United, and others.
And if that is not offensive enough to Orange County businesses, Clay Lacy recently applied for and accepted $27 million in federal bail-out money (CARES Act). No other FBO applicants, including Atlantic Aviation, requested a taxpayer-funded bailout.
The Los Angeles-based company touts they are one of the largest owners and rents of jet aircraft. To be clear, FBO’s do not rent or own planes. That is the role what aviation tenants, like my company.
This is clearly an attempt by a Los Angeles company, with support from several Board of Supervisors, to expand its business using federal bailout money and the expense of local jobs here in Orange County.
As an aviation business owner, decisions related to FBOs dramatically impact my business, employees and customers. That is why many of us at the airport are struggling to understand why our local Orange County businesses, and the jobs we provide, are no longer important to some Board of Supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors should be working to protect local jobs, especially during a pandemic, as opposed to out-sourcing local jobs to a Los Angeles company.
In aviation, particularly at a busy airport like SNA, the top priority must always be safety, experience and predictability. Sadly, several Supervisors have veered off course and seem more focused on helping a Los Angeles company replace Orange County businesses and jobs.
Their decision to select a lesser qualified applicant, eliminate local Orange County jobs, and enter into exclusive negotiation with a company that needs bailout money is highly suspect.
It is time for the Board of Supervisors to start focusing on Orange County residents, jobs and businesses again. Our airport is not a place to take risks. They need to immediately get back on course and ensure that SNA continues to be an economic engine for all of Orange County and that local Orange County businesses and jobs are not outsourced to Los Angeles.
It is critical that an economic engine like John Wayne Airport be served by FBOs with a proven track record and the experience and network capable of meeting the travel needs of Orange County’s high-level of business travel demands.
Any choice to move away from a nationally tried and tested FBO has potential to be very dangerous for Orange County. Not only can we expect significant job loss as large companies move to a county that can serve their general aviation needs but also, a loss of local income and local opportunity that will devastate our county of generations to come.
The Board of Supervisors should end the exclusive negotiating agreement it has with a Los Angeles company and allow competition and scoring to matter when it comes to the best FBOs for our County’s airport.
Gary Standel founded West Coast Charters in 1987. Based at the south end of John Wayne Airport, West Coast Charters has grown to become one of the Orange County’s most trusted and successful aviation companies.
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