When the General Aviation Improvement Plan (GAIP) started at John Wayne Airport, the Airport’s “Proposed Plan” intended to kick more than 250 small airplanes off the airport making room for more large jets. SoCal Pilots joined with the Airport Working Group (“AWG”) and Still Protecting Our Newport (“SPON”) to form a community coalition with the common goal of limiting local jet noise by preserving the current balance of small propeller driven airplanes and jets.
This Coalition invested countless hours meeting with the six qualified Fixed Base Operator (FBO) bidders, Airport Staff, Airport Commissioners, and the Supervisors to construct the best solution for the entire Orange County community for the next 35 years. It was a monumental effort.
As part of this effort, last June, hundreds of residents from across the county packed into the Board of Supervisors meeting and made their voices heard. The Board of Supervisors heard the community’s call for limiting jet noise and dedicated the “Green Area” of the airport to small General Aviation.
The coalition’s work was not done. With so many qualified bidders attempting to obtain leases on the general aviation side of the airport, the community had to find bidders that didn’t just score high, they also needed to find bidders that would serve as honest brokers.
This component of finding forthright community partners among the FBO applicants was a vital prong in ensuring the community’s best interest prevailed in this process – and for good reason. FBOs serve as essentially landlords who lease hanger space and sell fuel to local pilots, who have limited options with only two FBOs at the airport. These limited options make local consumers and business at the airport ripe targets for price gouging, an issue fresh in the community’s mind during this process.
Several years ago, current Orange County FBO tenant Atlantic Aviation and former FBO tenant Signature Aviation had been caught price fixing or “gouging” local pilots and businesses, essentially taking advantage of limited alternative options with only two FBOs to work with. The county removed Signature from the airport and issued a stern rebuke to Atlantic Aviation that gouging local consumers on County land would not be tolerated. Atlantic was permitted to remain in their lease for the remaining three years provided they ceased their unfair pricing practices.
However, the impact of the County’s warning to Atlantic was short-lived. The attached graph shows that after the community backlash had died down, Atlantic Aviation returned to their practice of consistently charging far above market averages for fuel. Adding insult to injury, a survey of Atlantic Aviation’s locations shows that this is a practice that Atlantic employs across the Western United States.
With FBO leases up for review as part of this process and having already been burned once by Atlantic Aviation, the community groups needed to remain vigilant, lest the politically influential Atlantic Aviation convince the Board of Supervisors to look the other way again.
While the community groups seldom heard from Atlantic Aviation, two of the full service FBO applicants, ACI Jet and Clay Lacy Aviation, rolled up their sleeves and worked with the Coalition to become part of the solution for the residents of Orange County. ACI Jet and Clay Lacy Aviation listened to the community and incorporated most of the community’s priorities into their proposals.
This sincere outreach resulted in ACI and Clay Lacy being endorsed by both pilots and local community groups due to their sterling credentials, honesty, and willingness to work with the community to reduce jet noise and eliminate price fixing once and for all at the airport.
What followed was a unanimous vote by the County Airport Commission, affirming the coalition’s plan and the selection of ACI Jet and Clay Lacy Aviation as full-service FBO leaseholders.
The final step in this process was a vote of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, whether to affirm the community coalition and airport commission’s consensus or to ignore both.
This process played host to many different community groups, policy arguments, as well as business and political interests – all vying for influence and their preferred outcomes.
In making their decision, Supervisor Steel led the board in considering who would best serve the residents of Orange County for years to come and Steel did what she was elected to do: listen to and stand up for her constituents.
This is a perfect example of Orange County leadership and affected community groups working to find a solution. It was not size, not connections, not power, but a sincere willingness to work together toward the best plan for the next 35 years.
We applaud Supervisors Michelle Steel, Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett for siding with Orange County residents and for ignoring powerful lobbyists and political special interests hell-bent on preserving the status quo.
As we move forward, there will be attempts by unsuccessful applicants and their expensive lobbyists to undo the good public policy that has been achieved in this process. However, we remain ever-vigilant to preserve the community-first public policy we have achieved and our community will never forget Supervisor Steel, Supervisor Andrew Do and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett’s principled and inspired leadership on this issue.
Fred Fourcher, Co Founder and Board Member, SoCal Pilots Association
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