FBO Profile: Jet Center Los Angeles

 - September 3, 2013, 3:35 AM
Jet Center Los Angeles says the airport distinguishes itself from others in the area by creating an environment to welcome business aviation.

Business aircraft operators and pilots weary of the high cost of flying into Los Angeles International (LAX), noise restrictions and curfews at Van Nuys and Burbank, or the un-welcome mat represented by Santa Monica’s higher landing fees can find respite in a hidden gem in the Los Angeles metroplex, Jack Northrop Field/Hawthorne Municipal Airport and its FBO, Jet Center Los Angeles. The airport is located about two miles east of LAX. As an added bonus, Eureka!, a unique airport restaurant, opened recently at Hawthorne.

While Hawthorne Airport is also named after famed engineer Jack Northrop and was the flight-test site for Northrop’s pioneering flying wings, the SpaceX rocket factory and Tesla Motors design center now occupy some of the former Northrop digs. And tenant Triumph Aerostructures’ Vought Commercial Division manufactures Boeing 747 fuselage sections in its portion of the property. There is even more aviation history at Hawthorne: the airport was the site of the 1974 NBAA show, back when the convention was small enough to fit on a local airport.

“[The airport is] the best-kept secret,” said Jet Center president Levi Stockton. “It’s the only airport in the [Los Angeles] Basin where we have land on which people can secure a long-term lease–40 years and up–and build a hangar. We have hangars for sale, currently two 65-by-60s, and we have one of the best airport restaurants in the country. It’s an airport that wants you. The employees want you; there’s nothing here that is trying to chase people away. Everything about Hawthorne wants aviation to survive.”

Jet Center Los Angeles is owned by Advanced Air Aircraft Services, which also owns charter operator Advanced Air, for which Stockton is also president and one of the charter pilots. Advanced Air operates three King Air 350s that fly approximately 50 hours each a month. To meet charter demand, the company expected to begin flying a Pilatus PC-12/47 starting this month. The Jet Center FBO was a Million Air franchise for about five years, but transitioned to its own brand about two years ago, according to Stockton.

‘An Airport that Wants You’

Hawthorne Airport’s continued existence is in large part due to the city’s citizens, who voted about 10 years ago to keep and improve the airport. A company called Hawthorne Airport was formed and signed a master lease with the city. The lease expires in 2053, long enough to make investing in the airport infrastructure well worthwhile. So far, the company has invested more than $8 million in airport improvements. This includes more than $2 million spent on the new FBO terminal, 11 new hangars and repairs to old hangars, many of which had no doors or needed new roofs. “Our T-hangars always have a waiting list,” Stockton said, “and more people understand that this airport is here and how easy it is to get in and out compared to LAX or Santa Monica.”

Hawthorne Airport now has an Rnav approach to 4,956-foot Runway 25, with LPV minimums of 508 feet, lower than the localizer approach’s 557 feet. Because of its proximity to LAX, Hawthorne operates under a waiver allowing simultaneous approaches when traffic is landing to the west (usually during the day). About two years ago, the FAA had to reissue the waiver after a re-evaluation period, and during this period there were some delays for IFR flights into Hawthorne. Now, Stockton said, “there are no delays coming into and out of Hawthorne as long as the tower is in operation [from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.].” The airport has formally requested an extension of the tower hours to 9 p.m., and that request is pending at FAA headquarters. Hawthorne has no overnight curfews, unlike Santa Monica, Van Nuys and Burbank.

Hawthorne also doesn’t charge landing fees, although there is an FBO facility fee for aircraft that don’t need fuel. Overnight parking fees also apply. But this is still less expensive than the recently enacted $5.48-per-1,000-pounds landing fee at Santa Monica (which also now applies to based aircraft).

A recent look at local prices showed the jet-A retail price at Jet Center Los Angeles at $6.23 per gallon versus $7.95 at LAX and $7.97 at Santa Monica. “We give volume discounts on top of that,” Stockton said.

One of the most significant improvements at Hawthorne Airport is the new Eureka! restaurant, which replaced the old Nat’s Airport Café and opened on May 14.

Instead of the typical airport food that was a hallmark of Nat’s (and it was fine, especially the French fries), the new restaurant offers gourmet salads, sandwiches, burgers, breakfast foods and desserts and craft beers on tap. While Eureka! looks as it should cost more, the prices are reasonable and the quality of the food is excellent, including the tasty truffle fries (“infused with truffle oil, green onions and melted Havarti cheese”). The fish tacos are also delicious ($10.95 for three, with fries) and combine flaky blackened and sautéed white fish with mango chutney salsa. Breakfasts tap into the local culture with huevos rancheros and breakfast burritos, while the burger menu offers 11 varieties, including a Catalina bison burger that can save a pilot from having to fly to nearby Santa Catalina Island to try the tasty lean meat.

The Hawthorne Eureka! location is also the headquarters and test kitchen for the restaurant chain, which has nine other locations in California (not at airports).