JSX's Future at John Wayne Airport Uncertain

 - September 14, 2020, 4:35 PM

JSX could be shut out of one of its largest markets, John Wayne Airport in Orange County (SNA), if new lease agreements at the Southern California airport are approved that would prohibit it from using an FBO terminal there. Instead, SNA officials are proposing JSX use the same passenger terminal as major and commuter airlines.

But that’s contrary to JSX’s business model of providing scheduled air service on 30-seat Embraer regional jets in a business-class configuration with quick boarding. “This capability is fundamental to JSX Air’s business model and is the key component of the 'crowd-free' experience that sets JSX Air apart from the traditional air carriers, ever more so during this pandemic when first responders, immunocompromised, and other vulnerable populations need essential travel,” according to a letter from JSX’s attorneys to Orange County board of commissioners chairwoman Michelle Steel. The board will vote on the new leases with ACI Jet and Clay Lacy Aviation, the other FBO at SNA, at its meeting tomorrow.

CEO Alex Wilcox told AIN today that he learned through JSX’s landlord, ACI Jet, of the new lease provision last Thursday, and when he contacted SNA airport director Barry Rondinella the following day he was offered no explanation of the change. “Obviously this is an existential threat for our business and we’re not going to take it lying down,” Wilcox said.

SNA spokeswoman Deanne Thompson wrote in an email to AIN that the FBOs that responded to the airport’s request for proposal to operate there—and subsequently selected for negotiation—checked the box “no” when asked if they intend to sublease to a regularly scheduled commercial service. Further, community residents are communicating and advocating for the prohibition of “commercial airlines, such as JetSuiteX” to operate from an FBO at SNA. “JetSuiteX may operate from the Thomas F. Riley Terminal at John Wayne Airport, in the same manner as the other commercial and commuter carriers,” she wrote.

“It doesn’t work because their own website says to show up two hours ahead of time,” Wilcox said. “Ours says to show up 20 minutes ahead of time. And they’re telling us that they’re going to require the full monty of TSA. That obviously doesn’t work when you’re flying to and from airports…where there is no TSA. It’s a non-starter.”

SNA was one of the first airports JSX operated to and from when it launched service in 2018. It’s also a top-three market for JSX’s business. It employs 52 crew and related workers there and estimates its annual, local economic impact in Orange County is $25 million.

Wilcox thinks the clause violates FAA grants and other funding that requires airports to provide equal access. Should JSX be unsuccessful in convincing the Orange County supervisors to strike the clause from the lease agreements, the company could consider legal action. “This is an existential threat to JSX at [SNA] so we reserve all our rights and no course of action is off the table,” he said. “We will fight this action…until we prevail.”