May 27, 2014

The Los Angeles basin is home to many airports, including several of the largest and busiest in the United States. With a diverse mix of aircraft types, notoriously poor visibility for much of the year, several night curfews and congested airspace that rivals the traffic on the freeways, one might think business aircraft operators would avoid flying into the greater L.A. area if at all possible.

On the contrary. As airport managers testify, several key general aviation (GA) airports in the region are easily accommodating the needs of business aircraft operators, with little worry of reaching capacity.

Burbank and Van Nuys

One of the primary general aviation airports in the L.A. basin, Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR), has “a lot of airspace capacity,” notes BUR Executive Director Dan Feger. “We had double the amount of operations 20 years ago.” The same is true on the ground at Burbank. According to Ron Reynolds, manager of operations at the Million Air FBO, “There are four empty hangars on the field, two of which have never been leased. And we have lots of ramp space.”

Over at Van Nuys Airport (VNY), one of the world’s busiest general aviation facilities, airport manager Jess Romo is also optimistic about access to his airport, which is owned by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the same entity that owns Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). “We did not have capacity issues even at our peak…some years ago,” said Romo. “It’s not a problem getting in and out of here.”

As far as the ground infrastructure at VNY is concerned, Romo is bullish. “We should be in good shape for a minimum of 20 years,” he said, referring to the ramp space at the airport. “We also made a number of development commitments negotiated under prior leases which will result in some more hangars in the next one and one-half to three years, and those should meet the needs of our corporate tenants.”

Van Nuys Airport continues to upgrade, even as it “makes a certain number of adjustments due to business cycles,” according to Romo, who noted that he is just now beginning to see some overall upward trending since the recession began in 2008. Last year, more than $20 million in improvements to the airport’s main runway, 16R/34L, were made with minimal disruption to operators, and Romo has several taxiway projects on his to-do list over the next several years.

Noting that VNY can leverage its LAWA funds to apply for FAA grants, Romo remains optimistic about his airport. “We know what we need to do, and we get good support,” he said, adding that a recently negotiated lease amendment should breathe some new life into a proposed “Propeller Park,” which would cater exclusively to smaller piston aircraft and give them their own location on the west side of the airport.

Other L.A. Basin Airports

A little farther from downtown Los Angeles is Long Beach Airport (LGB). Operated by the city of Long Beach, this facility also offers good access. The airport, which has a large variety of operations, including blimps, helicopters, flight training and business and commercial aviation (JetBlue is the primary airline), is still a relatively easy airport for business aircraft operators to fly in and out of, according to John Tary, general manager of the AirFlite FBO and a pilot himself.

AirFlite, which is owned by Toyota and houses the Toyota flight department, has a 50 percent vacancy rate in its smaller hangars, although Tary is encouraged that his hangars for larger aircraft, such as Gulfstream 450s, are full. Tary, who believes that Long Beach Airport is taking longer to recover from the recession than some other airports, noted that the established VFR corridor in the L.A. area is a useful way for operators to traverse the L.A. airspace.

Tary has not experienced and does not anticipate an access or congestion problem. “Never once in 15 years of flying here have I had a delay,” he said.

Embattled Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), exclusively used by general aviation and an important part of GA access to Los Angeles and its environs, has also played a key role in access to the city over the years. NBAA and other groups are working closely with the FAA and local airport advocates ensuring that it stays open. Learn more about SMO. “For decades, NBAA and others in the general aviation community have fought to preserve access to this airport in the face of ongoing opposition by the city council. This is a battle we must and will continue to fight,” said Ed Bolen, NBAA president and CEO.

Protecting L.A. Airport Access

Curt Castagna, president of the Van Nuys Airport Association and president and CEO of Aerolease/Aeroplex Group, which has operations at both VNY and LGB, said that the role of all the L.A. basin airports is access to the national air transportation system.

“Each of the airports is important, and each of them needs to be preserved and protected,” asserted Castagna. “Each of them is critical to the local economy and the aviation industry.

“Many of the municipalities that own airports in the L.A. basin area have come under pressure since 2008 to increase their revenues, leading them in some instances to implement polices to seek deficit recovery in lieu of standard, established fair-market adjustments to airport rates, rents and fees,” he added. “However, most cities and airports understand the need to manage their airport so as to best maximize its economic and social value, while making sure it is as self-sustaining as possible.”

A case in point is Burbank. “The city of Burbank knows that general aviation jets contribute a sizeable amount of tax revenue to the city,” said Feger of BUR, which has some airline operations as well. “General aviation is an important source of revenue for us.”

“Despite economic pressures and a mix of operations in a congested metropolitan area, Los Angeles basin airports are accessible and open for business,” said Stacy Howard, NBAA’s Western regional representative. “The fact that most of these airports have available ground capacity and are not hampered by unreasonable air traffic delays is encouraging for NBAA Members and business aviation.”