May 22, 2013

The Aircraft Mechanics Program at Southern California’s Van Nuys Airport (VNY) has been a vital part of the local aviation community for more than 30 years, but it almost had to close its doors this year – until a group of airport businesses and civic leaders joined forces to secure a $1-a-year lease for the school.

Established by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and run by the district’s North Valley Occupational Center, the school trains nearly 200 students a year in airframe and powerplant (A&P) maintenance. It’s one of the only A&P programs of its kind open to high school students and provides both classroom instruction and hands-on training at the school’s Van Nuys hangar.

“The school has a tremendous history at the airport in terms of chemistry with the businesses here,” said Curt Castagna, president and CEO of Aerolease Group, which manages two facilities and hosts multiple businesses at Van Nuys.

“This is one of the nation’s busiest general aviation airports, and LAUSD’s aviation school is a great example of the economic benefits it creates in the San Fernando Valley, providing residents with opportunities for highly skilled, high-paying jobs, and providing airport businesses with well-trained mechanics,” he said.

As president of the Van Nuys Airport Association (VNAA), Castagna knows several mechanics and maintenance directors working for Los Angeles-area Part 91 and Part 135 operations who are graduates of the NVOC Aircraft Mechanics Program.

Threatened by Budget Cuts and Rising Rents

Last year, the school learned its rent at Van Nuys would rise to $12,000 per month. Like many school districts across the country, LAUSD faces serious fiscal challenges and announced it might have to close the A&P program.

The VNAA, which includes several NBAA Members like Castagna, identified a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provision that would allow Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which operates VNY, to charge the A&P school only $1 a year in rent. In most cases, the FAA’s guidance is for airports to charge tenants the fair-market rate for rent, but it makes a special exception for nonprofit and educational programs.

“Our industry needs trained mechanics,” said Castagna. “So we reached out to school board member Nuri Martinez and our congressman, Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-29-CA), to help find a mutually beneficial solution with LAWA and the FAA.”

LAWA agreed and requested the FAA’s approval to offer the special rate to the local A&P program. NBAA, along with other industry groups, wrote letters urging the FAA to approve LAWA’s request.

In addition, Si Robin, owner of Sensor Systems, Inc., where many of the school’s graduates work making aircraft antennas, made a $100,000 donation to the program.

On May 14, LAWA announced the $1-a-year lease had been approved and the school would stay open.

“This was a collaborative effort between the Van Nuys Airport Association, airport tenants, LAWA, elected officials, industry groups and the FAA,” said Castagna. “It really demonstrates what can be accomplished by coming together for a positive cause.”