Representatives of several hundred small-airplane owners on Monday evening took their arguments against what they fear would be an aircraft-fuel monopoly at John Wayne Airport to the Orange County Airport Commission, but were shot down on a 5-0 vote.
"General aviation is in decay at John Wayne Airport," said Michael Church, owner of Sunrise Aviation, a flight school based at the airport.
Addressing the Airport Commission at its meeting in Santa Ana, Church added: "This is now perceived to be an air-carrier airport. . . . We're on our way out."
Church, who is also president of the Orange County Airport Assn., a private pilots group, urged the commissioners to "recognize how much you owe general aviation your protection."
Don Miller, the association's vice president, said that the organization was not opposed to one firm taking over another at the airport but that commissioners should realize that none of the flight schools can operate "unless they can get fuel and get it right now."
The debate was the result of several recent changes affecting aircraft service firms based at John Wayne, which is home to about 900 privately owned planes ranging from piston-engine Cessnas to big Gulfstream corporate jets.
First, Tallmantz Aviation, one of the airport's three providers of general-aviation fuel, has been in financial difficulty, with the county attempting to evict the firm for non-payment of rent.
Second, developer-aviator William Lyon and partners have purchased Martin Aviation, and Lyon proposes to take over the airport land lease and assets held by Pel-Aire Partners, which is known publicly as Million Air. Martin and Million Air are the only other providers of general-aviation fuel at the airport.
Airport commissioners were provided with a study, financed by Martin Aviation and conducted by the Peat Marwick accounting firm, that purports to show no correlation between the number of fuel providers at an airport and the price per gallon.
The study surveyed 56 fuel providers at 22 different airports.
"The survey demonstrates that Martin Aviation's acquisition of Million Air's assets should have no adverse impact on fuel prices," David Banmiller, chairman of Martin's board, wrote to the commissioners.
About 59% of all airports offering low-lead aviation fuel have only one or two suppliers, according to the Peat Marwick report.
Airport officials said that if Tallmantz Aviation is successfully evicted, its fueling business will be taken over by a new airport business operator, so that fuel would continue to be provided by a second source.
Panel members decided during the meeting that it was better to have Martin Aviation assume control of Million Air than to let Million Air, which has been losing money, stop operating altogether.
In other action, the Airport Commission approved a plan to allow a second airport contractor to finish work on a new garage and elevated roadway, a job that Taylor Woodrow California Construction Ltd. was fired from in May.
Under the plan, proposed by the airport staff, the Irvine-based McCarthy Brothers firm will complete the work at a price not to exceed $1.634 million, four times the amount for which Taylor Woodrow has offered to do it.