Orange County supervisors selected a trio of companies Tuesday to provide services such as fuel and repairs for the part of John Wayne Airport reserved for smaller aircraft.
The supervisors voted 3-2, with Supervisors Don Wagner and Doug Chaffee dissenting, for Clay Lacy Aviation Inc. to be the full-service fixed-base operator on the northwest side of the airport. The board voted 4-1, with Chaffee dissenting, for ACI Jet to be the full-service northeast side fixed-base operator, and were unanimous in picking Jay’s Aircraft Maintenance Inc. for the limited service FBO.
Clay Lacy scored 393 out of 500 points compared with 475 for Atlantic, the incumbent company at the airport. Atlantic was a longtime fixed-base operator at the airport, but came under scrutiny for allegedly colluding with Signature Flight Support to keep fuel prices high.
In February 2017, the board ousted Signature Flight Support, but kept Atlantic and added ACI Jet.
The full-service fixed-base operators provide aviation fuel, aircraft repair and maintenance, charter flights and aircraft wash facilities. The operators also manage the hangar and tie-down facilities.
The limited-service FBOs provide minor aircraft repair and maintenance, self-service fueling, aircraft washing, and management of hangar storage operations and tie-down facilities.
Now county officials will negotiate 35-year leases with the companies.
“This is a big, positive step at John Wayne Airport that will preserve small aviation for decades to come,” Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel said.
Wagner said he preferred Atlantic because it is a national chain and there are benefits to a larger network of connected operators.
Steel, however, said the stakeholders in the community and the airport commission “supported Clay Lacy over Atlantic.”
Steel said she was also concerned that Atlantic was up for sale, but Wagner and Chaffee downplayed that. Wagner said it is a large corporation and an ownership sale is more or less like a transfer of stock among stockholders, while Chaffee said with a lease this long it is inevitable that all the operators will change ownership hands at some point.
Scott Cutshall, senior vice president of Clay Lacy, told the supervisors that his company runs a full-service FBO at Van Nuys Airport and that it has partnerships with a number of other independent operators.
Supervisor Andrew Do said he had a “pre-judgment” for Atlantic, but that his mind was changed by the input from local pilots, the ad-hoc committee of Steel and Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, as well as the airport commission.
“I think it’s significant that all four came out the same way” with recommendations, Do said.
Chaffee said he supported continuing with Atlantic because “they scored significantly higher and I like the idea of a network versus a conglomeration of independents. They have different standards. The other thing is their experience. They have built no less than 12 FBOs from scratch. They are sound financially. If you want a safe bet it would be Atlantic.”
Wagner also sounded concern that it was bad timing to dump Atlantic during a global pandemic that has led to a downturn in the economy.
“You’re going to lose a lot of existing Orange County jobs,” he said.
Bartlett noted that when ACI came aboard John Wayne Airport it was a “smooth transition” and that the company hired many of Signature’s employees.
Chaffee said he could “not in good conscience” vote for ACI because he said the company had 47 safety incidents at the airport.
“But in their questionnaire they said they didn’t have any and that bothered me,” Chaffee said.
Airport Director Barry Rondinella, however, said that ACI eventually resolved its problems and had “much fewer” incidents since November.
The board is expected to vote on the leases in September or October. The leases must be approved by at least a 4-1 vote.