California’s Orange County Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved major alterations to the general aviation infrastructure at John Wayne-Orange County Airport (SNA). The 5-0 vote on the proposal put forward by vice-chair Second District supervisor Michelle Steel during a June 24 meeting will redefine the current acreage designated for smaller-aircraft operations and at the same time reduce the space available for larger business jets as part of the airport's General Aviation Improvement Plan (GAIP).
The airport is currently served by two full-service FBOs: Atlantic Aviation, which occupies a more-than-20-acre leasehold on the southeast corner of the airfield, and ACI Jet, which sits on 25.6 acres, with facilities on both sides of the airport. The two operate separated portions of a common fuel farm. There are also two limited-service FBOs that do not provide fueling. One, Martin Aviation, is still under a lengthy lease, while the other, Jay’s Maintenance, is operating on a month-to-month lease, as are the two full-service companies.
Steel’s approved proposal calls for the airport to issue an RFP for long-term leases for the two plots now occupied by ACI, which will exist as two separate FBOs, while the 20.5-acre plot currently occupied by Atlantic Aviation on the southeast corner of the airfield will be leveled and designated for light-aircraft use only. One limited-service FBO will be selected for the 14-acre southwest parcel, which will also be limited to small aircraft. Medium and large-cabin business jets, which previously had the run of the more than 60 acres of GA space, will be restricted to the 25.6 acres of the two full-service FBO plots, according to the lease restrictions.
According to Steel, the move is intended to protect small general aviation at the airport. While GA accounts for around 70 percent of SNA’s total aircraft operations, over the past approximately 25 years, there has been a nearly 20 percent decline in general aviation aircraft based at SNA, and according to the airport, the GA fleet mix has changed over the past several years. The number of single- and twin-engine piston airplanes has declined, while the number of business jets based there has increased to more than 100.
“I have worked closely with the City of Newport Beach, community groups, and individual residents to prepare this proposal that creates land restrictions to preserve small general aviation at the airport,” said Steel. “I will continue to work with residents, cities, and community groups through the RFP process to preserve the mix of general aviation at John Wayne Airport.”
According to one source, the decision was influenced by growing concerns from the local communities about the proliferation of business jet, air-taxi, and other operations, which they believe are responsible for noise and air quality problems. Indeed, since the program was announced, there have been protests in the area that mischaracterized the GA redevelopment as an expansion of the airport. SNA officials noted that there are already more jets on the airport than there is available hangar space, with many of the hangars unable to accommodate the latest big business jets with greater wingspans. The airport expects that under the GAIP, many of the existing GA structures will be torn down and replaced, with the possible exception of the terminal currently occupied by ACI Jet as the company has made significant renovations to the facility since occupying it at the beginning of 2017. Development of new FBOs and new hangars could reduce the number of repositioning flights involved in dropping off local passengers and then relocating to other airports where the aircraft are based, the airport pointed out.
The RFP will also invite interested FBO operators to negotiate with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to include in their bid an international GA facility to operate from 5 a.m. until 12 a.m., which will allow private flights to use SNA as an entry point. According to an airport spokesperson, there was no time frame yet for issuing the RFP.