Sept. 23, 2020

The Orange County (CA) Board of Supervisors voted earlier this month to approve 35-year-leases to ACI Jet and Clay Lacy Aviation to operate FBOs at John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA), marking a significant milestone for a $162 million General Aviation Improvement Program that launched in 2015 and will culminate in a complete overhaul of GA facilities at the Southern California airport.

“We’ve won awards for our commercial airline operations for years, and we wanted to enhance the GA side similarly,” said SNA Airport Director Barry Rondinella. “The fleet mix has changed quite a bit over the past 30 years, and our outdated facilities meant local aircraft owners were often forced to hangar their aircraft elsewhere. We look forward to bringing those folks back home to SNA.”

Rendering of planned ACI Jet facility at John Wayne Airport, Orange CountyRendering of planned ACI Jet facility at John Wayne Airport, Orange County

ACI Jet’s new complex will house a dedicated GA Customs and Border Protection facility, adding a valuable enhancement to the list of services at SNA. “There’s not a GA facility on the east side of SNA that won’t be replaced with a new facility over the next 10 years,” said ACI Jet Founder and CEO Bill Borgsmiller. “Everything that isn’t part of the commercial airline terminal will be overhauled.”

Rendering of planned Clay Lacy facility at John Wayne Airport, Orange CountyRendering of planned Clay Lacy facility at John Wayne Airport, Orange County

“We are delighted to have the support of the community and be selected to expand operations at SNA,” added Scott Cutshall, senior vice president for business operations at Clay Lacy, which will open a temporary facility at SNA on Jan. 1, 2021, ahead of construction on its permanent facilities. “After four years of planning, we’re excited to bring our history of service to SNA and to further expand our relationship and scholarships with the Orange Coast College Aviation Science Department located a few minutes down the road in Costa Mesa.”

The procurement process was not without some controversy as the Board of Supervisors opted not to extend a long-term lease to incumbent tenant Atlantic Aviation, despite that facility receiving the highest scores in a project evaluation of airport service providers. Atlantic had challenged the decision.

“We are deeply disappointed by this week’s decision by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and we remain concerned over the fairness and transparency of this process,” said a company spokesperson. “Notwithstanding the county’s decision, Atlantic expects to continue serving its customers at John Wayne Airport until at least Jan. 1, 2021.”

The board also provided direction to move the JSX (formerly JetSuiteX) public charter operation to the commercial airline terminal from its current base at ACI Jet. In its letter to the board of supervisors sent in advance of the meeting, NBAA expressed concern that the airport’s insistence that JSX operate only from within the secure area of the terminal is effectively a denial of access to SNA.

“We encourage the Board of Supervisors to reconsider the proposed lease terms or to ensure that the airport designates an area of the terminal for use by scheduled charter operators to enplane and deplane passengers that are not subject to TSA security screening, to ensure that SNA continues to be accessible to all types of aeronautical activities,” NBAA wrote.

Read the full text of NBAA’s letter to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Despite these concerns, NBAA Western Regional Representative Phil Derner noted the upcoming improvements demonstrate SNA’s commitment to supporting GA operations, including business aviation, well into the future. “It is always uplifting to see airports investing in their services and infrastructure,” he said. “These new facilities will find great use, empowering many local companies to harness business aviation as a necessary, safe, efficient and competitive tool.”

Permitting and National Environmental Policy Act work on the multiyear improvement project at SNA are expected to begin after the first of the year.