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Saturday, Oct 1, 2022
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Taking Off

Pilots landing at Van Nuys Airport will have new navigation landmarks in a few years as pent-up demand fuels a building spree along the runway. Already under construction in the northwest corner of the airfield is the Park at Van Nuys, a facility for propeller planes that will feature hangars and a terminal building. On the opposite side along Valjean Avenue, steel beams have gone up for a new hangar for Clay Lacy Aviation. At the north end, bidders await a decision by Los Angeles World Airports on who will get permission to build a fixed-base operation that will sell fuel, provide hangar space and maintain aircraft. All of that is in addition to building projects proposed to go up in the next two years by Signature Flight Support, Aerolease/Aeroplex Group, and Maguire Jet, an aviation company owned by L.A. real estate developer Robert Maguire. Airport officials and analysts are confident the market will sustain all the new construction, and developers are being cautious so as not to oversaturate the airport. “The word that gets used is ‘metered,’ so absorption of the business activity is healthy, with consideration to where the growth is coming from,” said Curt Castagna, president of the Van Nuys Airport Association and president of Aerolease/Aeroplex, which has hangar space at the airport. As one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world, Van Nuys serves both corporate and private charter aircraft as well as the recreational pilot coming out on weekends to tool around in a Cessna. In 2014, the airport recorded 238,618 takeoffs and landings, a decrease of 13 percent from the previous year. The drop was caused by a loss of pilot training at the airport, said airport spokeswoman Diana Sanchez. Airport Manager Jess Romo said another indicator of the airport’s performance is fuel deliveries, which are showing increases year over year. Through June, sales of jet fuel were 10.4 million gallons compared with 9.5 million gallons in the same period a year earlier. Piston aircraft fuel was at 158,505 gallons in the first six months compared with 152,981 in the same period last year. “I think we are seeing, as the economy improves and opportunities in general aviation improve, a steady and gradual improvement in the health of the airport businesses,” Romo said. Construction boom Two new players at the airport are developers Peter Gravett and Carl Burhanan. Gravett is chief executive and Burhanan managing member at FBO Investments VNY, a bidder for a 15-acre parcel at 16644 Roscoe Boulevard formerly occupied by Pentastar Aviation, which left the airport in 2012. Los Angeles World Airports owns the land and FBO would lease it if the firm’s bid is accepted. Burhanan and Gravett went before a LAWA commission Aug. 13 to pitch their $77 million project, consisting of hangars, offices, a flight training school, a maintenance facility and even a large-screen movie theater for potential buyers to view aircraft in real time. Spread over six buildings, the facility would house 350 employees. “This provides an opportunity to modernize facilities and to streamline operations to make things work better,” said Gravett, adding that financing will come from an investor partner, a construction loan and tax-free bonds. Both Gravett and Burhanan are former military personnel. Burhanan served in the Korean War and was later pilot of Army One, the helicopter used by U.S. presidents. Gravett served for 40 years in the Army and California National Guard, and served as head of the state’s Department of Veteran Affairs. As commander of a division that included 150 aircraft and helicopters that used fixed-base operators to refuel, Gravett said he has seen enough of the business to know how they operate and how they can improve. “We plan to do that if we receive this contract,” he added. LAWA officials could not confirm whether FBO is one of the bidders due to confidentiality reasons. A final decision might be weeks away. Burhanan said the advantage of their pitch was the 350 jobs it would create and that 60 percent would be filled by veterans. “Our competitors will have trouble bringing in more than that,” Burhanan said. Another aviation professional with sky-high plans is Craig Walker, who has worked at the airport for 35 years and has seen the boom-and-bust cycles. There was a downturn in the late 1990s but the one in 2008-09 was the most horrific, said Walker, formerly with Castle & Cooke and recently hired to handle leasing and development for Maguire Jet. Robert Maguire founded Maguire Properties, a developer of several downtown L.A. office buildings, including the US Bank tower, the tallest skyscraper West of the Mississippi River. But when the recession hit, the company struggled under a crushing debt load. Maguire was ousted, and he was forced to sell off most assets, including buildings at Van Nuys Airport, which Signature Flight Support bought for $69 million early last year. All leases at Maguire’s buildings were transferred to Signature. However, Maguire retained development entitlements for up to 575,000 square feet of hangar and office space as well as 600,000 square feet of tarmac, ramp and parking space. For Maguire, it is just a matter of finding tenants for the buildings and going through the permitting process with LAWA. “I definitely can see us starting (construction) within a year,” he said. “For the aviation business, that is pretty fast.” Maguire Jet’s Walker said all the development activity is creating excitement at the airport, but given the ups and downs of aviation, he’s wary. “Building on spec, once upon a time you could pull that off,” he said. “That is no longer the case.” Signature will occupy some of the hangar space Maguire will build and has an option to buy two of the buildings. In those cases, Maguire will be a subtenant on land that Signature is leasing from LAWA. Signature President Maria Sastre is playing the company’s development plans close to the vest. One detail she did give is that hangars would be more than 25,000 square feet. “Our intention is to ensure that larger aircraft are able to fit into our hangar facilities,” Sastre said during a stop at Van Nuys on Aug. 13 for a ribbon-cutting at a new customs clearance office at one of the company’s locations at the airport. Other developments at the airport also have large footprints. Clay Lacy’s new hangar on 5.8 acres will be more than 60,000 square feet. The project, which will include three buildings, will be completed next year. In addition, Aerolease/Aeroplex will have completed 40,000 square feet of hangar and office space in about 18 months, Castagna said. One site for redevelopment that hasn’t found a developer yet is the former Jet Center, an underutilized 7-acre parcel with three hangars. Currently, Los Angeles County uses the space for storing its firefighting aircraft and will remain there through the end of the year. It remains unknown just how LAWA wants to see the center developed, said facility Manager Romo. Robert Rodine, a Sherman Oaks consultant in the aviation industry and longtime observer of the airport, noted that business among fixed-base operators has seen some consolidation. In 2005, Van Nuys had five such operators, while now that number is down to three. Still, he feels good about the construction boom and what it means for the future. “I cannot speak for anyone new but the existing (business owners) will run their facilities in a way that is good for the airport,” he said.

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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