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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Local Companies Do Business At Huge National Conference

The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., is larger than a football field. Maybe larger than two football fields. Getting from one end to the other of the center’s exhibit floor during last week’s National Business Aviation Association annual convention required the skills of a running back; the ability to weave between the briefcase-lugging conventioneer coming from the right and the luggage-pulling conventioneer coming from the left; to not be distracted by the group of women in the low-cut flight attendant uniforms or long, red formal dresses; and to finally get past the cutlass-wielding Capt. Jack Sparrow impersonator before making the final dash for the escalators leading to the concourse level. The airplanes, helicopters, fuel trucks and over-sized exhibits justify all that space. Gulfstream by far had the largest exhibit, a two-story affair with models of their business jets and an invitation-only lounge on the second floor. Embraer Executive Jets kept its restricted meeting room behind sliding frosted glass doors. The Cessna exhibit had three plane fuselages, minus wings and tails, while Nordam and Million Air had water features at their exhibits. NBAA Board Chairman Jeff Lee put the number of exhibitors for the convention at 5,312, more than the 5,257 exhibitors in 2007 in what was then a record number. Spread out on the convention floor were the two dozen or so companies from the San Fernando Valley and surrounding environs representing the charter, aircraft management and fixed-base operators, maintenance firms, parts manufacturers, and professional services. These were modest-sized booths, with no planes, no hired babes, and no private meeting rooms. There was no reason to make an appointment with the owner because they would be right there. Jim Hansen, general manager of Gulfstream maintenance company Western Jet Aviation, has been coming to the NBAA convention since his days working at the Jet Center at the Van Nuys Airport. This year was the first he took out booth space, which was shared with Jet Edge, a charter firm he co-owns, and aircraft interior and painting companies that he partners with. “How well you do depends on where you have a booth,” Hansen said. “If people don’t know you or aren’t looking for you they might miss you” Steve Lassetter, president and COO of charter and FBO Sun Air Jets based at the Camarillo Airport, uses the convention to renew past friendships and get the Sun Air name out there for aircraft owners to know. “There are flight departments that come through Southern California and we want them to be familiar with Sun Air,” Lassetter said. “This is a great place to meet them.” Lassetter’s company is one of more than 100 operators making planes available through Virgin Charter, making its second appearance at the convention. CEO Scott Duffy used the show to discuss the progress the firm has made in offering online charter bookings in the year since the site was in beta test and the six months since it went public. “Some of the things we learned is that, one, the (Virgin) brand resonates in the industry,” Duffy said. “Another is we are seeing the power of real time quoting.” Virgin Charter, based near the airport in Santa Monica, has 15,000 registered users and booked flights ranging in price from $5,000 to $2 million for a corporate incentive trip. Ninety-five percent of the flights are booked online, Duffy said. The overall goal of the company is to make the buying and selling of charter trips easier. Passengers no longer need to contact individual operators to compare prices and aircraft now they can just input the relevant information and the website does the work. Software integration between Virgin Charter and the operators make it easier for the operators to know when potential customers are interested in hiring their planes. Virgin anticipates that fractional operators partial owners of aircraft similar to a timeshare in a vacation home will increasingly make their planes available for charter service. That gives Virgin access to larger fleets and sophisticated operators who can do real time quoting, Duffy said. New Hangar The Aerolease/Aeroplex Group is the latest aviation company at Van Nuys Airport to open new facilities. The company built 82,000-square feet of hangar space and 25,000-square feet of office space at Woodley Avenue and Daily Drive. The space has two tenants, a private aircraft owner and The Air Group, a charter and aircraft management firm that is part of Sentient Jet Holdings. The tenants employ 150 people. Aerolease constructs and leases space needed by aviation companies, not owning or managing aircraft or selling fuel. “We are the ones taking on the risk so the tenants can focus on their business,” said President and CEO Curt Castagna. The company operates Aeroplex Aviation at Long Beach Airport, and Aerolease West at Van Nuys, which has improvements in store for it to improve tarmacs, landscaping, lighting and the security system. For the new hangars at Van Nuys, Castagna demolished an existing building that had once been used to make Piper prop planes. Working through the bureaucracies of the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports delayed the project longer than Castagna would have liked. Van Nuys has undergone a building boom following the approval of the new master plan that designates uses at the airfield. TWC Aviation moved from Bob Hope Airport in Burbank to a new hangar on the north end of the airport on property leased by Maguire Aviation. Maguire is also constructing new facilities on the former Skytrails property. Aerolease used pre-engineered buildings for its project, and after the steel and construction the highest cost was for the fire suppression system. The pump engine room alone cost $200,000. In designing the building, one goal that Castagna had in mind was not to make it look so monolithic when seen from Woodley Avenue. “The TWC building did it with different colors,” Castagna said. “We tried to do it with the trim, the blue line running along the top.” Staff Reporter Mark Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or by e-mail at mmadler@sfvbj.com. He flew to Orlando after attending the last Cubs game of the season in which they lost the playoffs to the Dodgers.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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