OC Board Votes for New Service Companies at John Wayne Airport

August 12, 2020 Updated: August 12, 2020

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Aug. 11 to authorize three companies to provide services for private jets and airplanes flying in and out of the California county’s John Wayne Airport.

The board voted 3-2 for Clay Lacy Aviation Inc. to be the full-service fixed-based operator (FBO) on the northwest side of the airport, and 4-1 for ACI Jet to be the full-service northeast-side FBO. Jay’s Aircraft Maintenance Inc. was unanimously chosen as the limited service FBO.

Each company will be given the right to negotiate 35-year land leases with county officials, taking the place of long-standing Atlantic Aviation. The companies will provide services including fuel, parking, hangar space, repair and maintenance, charter flights, and aircraft washing facilities to incoming private jets, planes, and helicopters.

Community members and pilots had advocated for the airport to maintain its current balance of hangars on the field, hoping to limit an increase in the number of larger international private planes. Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel fought to establish a “green area” for light, general aviation aircraft in an effort to maintain the balance.

Fred Fourcher, founder of the SoCal Pilots Association, told The Epoch Times that his association is “very happy” with the board’s decision, and that the language of the leases will govern whether or not jet traffic increases over time.

“If the lease … has language that specifies the entire green area will be built out with maximum number of individual hangars in the sizes and ratios that are on the field today, then you will see the same mix of small planes and jets for the next 35 years,” Fourcher said.

Nearby residents had voiced concern over a possible expansion of the airport and increased noise levels following the switch, but Fourcher said that’s not possible.

“The airport cannot expand in size because there is simply no more room,” Fourcher said. “The airport is actually contracting, not expanding,” he said, due to new Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

John Wayne Airport Director Barry Rondinella said prior to the vote that the airport would look forward to doing business with whomever the board selected, but that incumbent Atlantic Aviation was the only company that had a true network across the country offering multiple locations.

However, Scott Cutshall, senior vice president of Clay Lacy Aviation, said his company is a member of two of the world’s largest networks of independent FBO operators. These networks serve 167 locations in 33 countries and six continents, he said, whereas Atlantic Aviation serves only 70 locations inside the United States.

Supervisor Donald Wagner, who voted against Clay Lacy Aviation, said making the switch to a new aviation company in the middle of a pandemic would result in the loss of many existing jobs, causing enormous disruption.

“In a time of 14 percent unemployment in the state of California, we are threatening with this move to dump a number of Atlantic employees out of their jobs, or at least out of their homes, for a reason that doesn’t strike me as sufficiently great to warrant that move,” Wagner said.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee also supported Atlantic Aviation, and voted against both Clay Lacy Aviation and ACI Jet.

The new leases must be approved by at least a 4-1 board vote to go into effect. The board is expected to vote on the leases in September or October.