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Orange County supervisors OK operators for John Wayne Airport’s general aviation upgrade

Private planes parked at John Wayne Airport.
Private planes parked at John Wayne Airport. Single- and twin-engine aircraft, along with larger business jets, are stored and maintained on more than 60 acres at the Santa Ana airport.
(Photo by Hillary Davis)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors has approved the companies that will provide services to the roughly 500 private pilots at John Wayne Airport when the airport upgrades its aging general aviation infrastructure.

ACI Jet, Clay Lacy Aviation and Jay’s Aircraft Maintenance picked up the supervisors’ approval Tuesday for maintenance and repair, hangar and tie-down storage management, fueling and other support services. All already have a presence at John Wayne.

Much of the discussion at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting focused on the qualities of the applicants, with assists from customers and friends offering supportive testimony. Dozens of speakers and letter-writers endorsed ACI Jet, Jay’s and Clay Lacy’s records of longtime service, local ties and specialized knowledge for pilots of all experience levels.

“The aviation community in Orange County and in general is very transparent and close-knit,” wrote pilot Walter Eeds. “If companies or individuals do not act as ‘good citizens,’ they don’t last very long. Jay’s Aircraft has certainly met and exceeded this standard.”

Kevin Wayt, chief pilot for the Irvine-based supplements company Nutrawise Corp., said ACI Jet’s entree into the JWA community three years ago has been refreshing.

“ACI Jet is just what Orange County KSNA airport needed, and we want to encourage you to grant ACI Jet the opportunity to continue their already outstanding ‘start’ to improve the entire airport,” he wrote.

Newport Beach neighbors also chimed in — having long been interested in any impacts related to a reconfiguration, which will offer new amenities to users of larger, typically noisier business jets.

Newport resident Sue Dvorak, who is active in airport discussions, told the supervisors that the county’s process so far has been nontransparent. In a commentary published in the Daily Pilot last week, Balboa Island resident Lee Pearl, also an airport watchdog, agreed, and called the plan a “colossal mistake.”

“Orange County officials (operators of the airport) want to meet their revenue goals, and they have designed the approval process for this contract in order to breeze past watchdog groups and de-fang anyone with interests that contradict those goals ... The process has been made to appear democratic, but when the inevitable complaints arise after the consequences of this expansion become widespread public knowledge, the county will point to the paltry disclosures it has offered up and claim that documents have been shared,” Pearl wrote.

The Newport Beach City Council and the city’s Aviation Committee signed off on generally favorable evaluations of the proposals in July. Though their approval is only advisory — the airport is in Santa Ana and is overseen by Orange County — the county allowed Newport to offer feedback.

Newport Beach, which sits under the John Wayne departure path, has long had a seat at the table for airport operations; a Newport-initiated settlement agreement dating to 1985 sets limits on JWA’s noise levels, commercial departures, number of annual passengers and airport capital improvements.

General aviation isn’t regulated by the agreement. That means private planes can land and take off 24 hours a day, although they are held to the same noise standards.

The supervisors voted last year to approve a new general aviation facility at JWA with customs screening for private international flights while keeping onsite storage space for the smallest airplanes roughly as is. The current balance of plane storage leans toward smaller aircraft favored by hobbyists.

Airport officials and the chosen operators are now set to negotiate lease terms, which will need the supervisors’ final approval.

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