Group Pushes to Get Plans for Air Expo Off the Ground

Times Staff Writer

A group led by former U.S. Rep. Bob Wilson wants to transform an unused, 75-acre tract at Brown Field into an exposition grounds that, starting in May, 1988, would host military and commercial aerospace shows similar to those held in Paris and Farnsborough, England.

On Monday, officials of the group suggested that the shows, which would be held each spring during even-numbered years, would provide 1,000 new jobs, generate a $28-million payroll, and pump $117 million into the local economy.

In addition to serving as a showcase for military and commercial aerospace manufacturing exhibitors, the proposed show would boast two weekend air shows designed to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators to Brown Field, which lies less than a mile from the Mexican border, Wilson said.

The weekend shows would include performances by military precision flying teams such as the Navy’s Blue Angels and air races that would draw international-caliber competitors.


The Brown Field exposition would be closed to the general public during a week-long business session and opened to potential customers from around the world who could see the latest in high-technology military and commercial equipment, which Wilson hopes will be displayed during the show. The show would include both ground and in-flight exhibits.

“We expect that this won’t be a one-time show but rather, one that will go forward (every two years) into the 21st Century,” said Wilson, who joined a Washington, D.C., consulting firm in 1981 after serving in Congress for 28 years.

Air/Space America, the not-for-profit group formed to develop and operate the show, has spent two years planning the event, said Wilson, who serves as the group’s chairman. He described the show as an event “that could help stimulate, promote and maintain increased foreign trade in aerospace and technology fields.”

Last year, the San Diego City Council granted “conceptual approval” to Air/Space America’s planned $18-million “complex of chalets, exhibitor facilities, shops and support outfits” at city-owned Brown Field in Otay Mesa. The currently unused land at the airport has been zoned for “fixed-base operations,” including airplane maintenance, sales, service and storage facilities, according to City Airports Manager Jerry Grooms.


Air/Space America must now submit a formal proposal to the city planning department, which would subsequently make a recommendation to the City Council, Grooms said.

San Diego was selected for the show because of its proximity to the Pacific Rim countries that are buying a heavy percentage of U.S.-made military and commercial airplanes as well as a proximity to West Coast-based airframe manufacturers and high-technology aerospace companies, Wilson said.

Air/Space America intends to finance the show largely through admission fees and corporate sponsorships, according to Wilson.

Air/Space America’s board of directors includes former San Diego councilman, assemblyman and U.S. Rep. Clair W. Burgener; Leon W. Parma, chief executive of La Jolla Bank & Trust and president of Coast Distributing; Herbert Klein, a Copley Newspaper executive, and, former U.S. Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin.


U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, former Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird and California Economic Development Corp. President Robert T. Monagan have agreed to serve on Air/Space America’s advisory board, according to Wilson.