Complaints Erupt as OC Finalizes Leases for Small Plane Service at JWA

Complaints Erupt as OC Finalizes Leases for Small Plane Service at JWA
A sign is displayed at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., on June 28, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Sarah Le

Despite some last-minute disagreements, Orange County Supervisors voted at a board meeting on Sept. 15 to finalize 35-year leases with two companies for small-plane service at the California county’s John Wayne Airport.

The board voted 4–1 for Clay Lacy Aviation to replace Atlantic Aviation on the northwest side of the airport and 5–0 for ACI Jet to remain on the northeast side, both as full-service fixed-based operators (FBO).

The companies will provide hangar space, fuel, repair and maintenance, and charter flights for private planes and helicopters.

Jay’s Aircraft Maintenance Inc. was unanimously chosen in August as the third small plane FBO providing limited service. The final contract for the company is still being negotiated.

Before the vote, an attorney for Atlantic Aviation argued that the vote could not take place because Atlantic had filed a protest.

“Due to the protest we filed yesterday, the board is unable to vote on entering the lease with Clay Lacy,” Ted Allen, who represented Atlantic, said at the meeting.

“That’s because the RFP [Request for Proposals] issued by the county provides that in the event of a timely protest, the county shall not proceed with the solicitation or the award of the contract until the deputy airport director of business development or the procurement appeals board renders a decision on the protest.”

However, County Counsel Leon Page replied, “This board is not legally bound by what was stated in the Request for Proposals.”

Supervisor Don Wagner said the decision “may be legal,” but “it is still wrong.”

“That is a terrible way for government to do business—put out an RFP, establish a process, and then just say we’re not bound by it, never mind,” the supervisor said.

Wagner was the sole dissenting vote regarding the Clay Lacy lease. Supervisor Doug Chaffee had previously voted against both companies in August, but voted in favor of both at the Sept. 15 meeting.

The new leases may also block commuter jet company JSX from the small plane area of the airport starting Jan. 1, 2021, due to a clause that prohibits subleases with “regularly scheduled commercial service.”

Employees and supporters of the company spoke at the meeting, urging the board to allow JSX to continue operating as a hybrid charter service.

Alex Wilcox, CEO of JSX, brought 10 thumb drives with him and presented them to the board. He said the drives contained comments from customers and other supporters of the company, including more than 6,000 emails.

“I was blindsided, frankly, when our landlord called and said ... he may not accommodate services such as JSX at his property, and therefore he wouldn’t be able to provide services to us,” said Wilcox.

Employees of JSX said customers appreciated their smaller planes with a limit of 30 passengers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as fast service that bypasses regular Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee said there would be space for the company in the commercial part of the airport, and they had already been invited.

“I think that would be a rapid process should they choose to do that. That’s really where they belong,” he said.

The city of Newport Beach, along with other local community advocates, had previously pushed for a ban on commuter and charter jets in the small plane area due to concerns about noise and air pollution.