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Saturday, Mar 2, 2024

Whiteman Serving Business Aviation in Low Key Way

Tucked out of the way on the eastern edge of the San Fernando Valley, Whiteman Airport may be a small airfield but it looms large for those pilots keeping aircraft there and businesses located there. Somewhat forgotten because it does not offer commercial service like Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and does not have the title of one of the world’s busiest general aviation airports like Van Nuys, the Los Angeles County-owned Whiteman brings other benefits. Rents are cheaper, for one. There is no landing fee for aircraft, no day parking fees, and the single-runway airfield serves an important role of keeping small piston-powered planes away from congested airports. Perhaps the biggest factor working in Whiteman’s favor is the lack of a confusing, byzantine bureaucracy such as found at Los Angeles World Airports, owner and operator of Van Nuys. “When the people are pleasant and the airport is pleasant why wouldn’t you want to be there?” asked Dusty Rhodes, the co-owner of Vista Aviation, the largest business on the airfield. A $6 million investment by Rhodes and business partner Brenda Thomas to build a new home for Vista’s maintenance services, flight school and pilot’s supply store demonstrates the importance of Whiteman to the broader business community. The airport serves as the location for some 30 specialty aviation-related companies. Aircraft owned by business people and used during their workday are among the more than 700 planes based there. For Peter Albiez, checking up on his agricultural interests near Porterville is the difference between a quick flight in his Cessna Cardinal and spending three hours driving. “It is convenient to fly in and out of and they are receptive and general aviation friendly,” said Albiez, who serves as vice president of Whiteman Airport Association Planes trailing large banner ads take off from Whiteman. Angel City Air leases the helicopters used by Los Angeles television stations for aerial coverage. Aircraft maintenance firms, the Civil Air Patrol, and the L.A. County Fire Department Air Operations unit are all located there. Camaraderie Whiteman is a hideaway, a countrified community airport that makes good use of the limited land available. Rhodes compared the camaraderie among the businesspeople and pilots and aviation enthusiasts to a brotherhood. “It’s more personal,” Thomas added. L.A. County owns five airports but contracts with American Airports Corp. for the actual day-to-day operations. The county is responsible for getting federal funding and capital improvements. A high priority for Airport Manager Jason Morgan, an American Airports employee, is completing the update of the airport’s master plan, the 20-year blueprint for how the airfield will accommodate future use. Plans include adding hangar and tie-down space and a new terminal building for the administration offices and restaurant, Morgan said. The airport also anticipates more helicopters to be based there to join ones used by the television news stations, and for aerial photography and sight seeing. “It’s about how do we take the space we have and use it best for the future,” said Evelyn Jerome Alexander, a member of the county airport commission, an advisory body to the L.A. County Commissioners. The challenge in the update, Alexander said, is balancing the different interests of the current tenants and users with those who will come in the future. Rhodes and Thomas have made steps of their own on meeting future demand with their 12,000 square foot expansion at Vista that includes hangar and tie-down space. The pair moved their business from the temporary quarters where they had operated for 28 years to a 4 & #733;-acre parcel along Airpark Way that is much talked about at the airport. Vista started out servicing and selling fixed-wing aircraft and later expanded to the flight school. Whiteman was a more manageable location to learn to fly and students get more time in the air because they do not have long waits to take off, such as what happens at Van Nuys. If Vista can attract in a novice pilot for lessons the hope is that they will have a long-time customer who will purchase an aircraft and then bring it there for maintenance, Thomas said. The single runway at Whiteman limits the type of aircraft flying in and out. So don’t look for the corporate jets that are so familiar to Van Nuys although the runway can handle certain models of Beechcraft King Air twin turboprops used for corporate travel. If the Federal Aviation Administration approves a mandatory nighttime curfew for Bob Hope Airport, general aviation aircraft are expected to be displaced to smaller airports. Morgan, however, doesn’t foresee a high number of those planes coming to Whiteman.

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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