With the election of new officers, the Van Nuys Airport Association is looking for ways to boost business and bring in new jobs. With the downturn in the economy the airport has faced a drop in activity, lower fuel sales, and tenants laying off employees. With a unified front the association’s new president wants to reverse that pattern and make Van Nuys an attractive place for companies to be. “It might mean putting our collective heads together to bring business back to airport,” said Curt Castagna, who is president and CEO of Aerolease Associates, a major leaseholder at the airport. Joining Castagna as newly elected officers are Elliot Sanders, first vice president and owner of Planned Approach Benefits; Tim Wray, 2nd vice president and chief operating officer of Maguire Aviation; and Jeanne Fenimore, treasurer and secretary and owner of Aircraft Sparkplug Service. The airport association was founded in 1982 with a membership that favored the major tenants. Later, the organization was gradually opened to the owners of the propeller aircraft based at Van Nuys. While the propeller pilots had the greater numbers they yielded little of the economic muscle of the aviation tenants whose livelihoods were dependent on fuel sales, charter flights, aircraft management, and aviation support services. With different interests, a split developed between the turbine operators and the propeller pilots. Sanders, a propeller pilot and former president of the VNY Propeller Aircraft Association, seeks to bring a balance between the two groups. His view is that what is good for the major tenants is good for the airport as a whole and trickles down to benefit the propeller operators, Sanders said. While not having seen details of Castagna’s plans to improve the business atmosphere it’s a change Sanders will support. “If we are taking the association in a direction that benefits the airport in that way, I am all for it,” Sanders said. Bring back customs One issue the association looks to tackle is to bring back a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer to clear passengers and baggage on private overseas flights. An on-demand official had been available for charter aviation firms at both Van Nuys and Bob Hope Airport in Burbank until August 2006 when the agency decided to use those agents elsewhere. Officials with CBP have visited Van Nuys to discuss with airport officials and others what needs to be done to have an officer at the airfield. The major tenants are willing to pay a fee to have an officer available. A sticking point between the agency and the airport is supply a separate facility for the clearances. Even though propeller operators have no use for a Customs officer, Sanders sees the value in having one at the airport and will “fight like a dog” to have one available. “If people can clear here that promotes business,” Sanders said. “That brings in longer range aircraft that are quiet, that buy fuel.” Closer cooperation The new direction Castagna envisions for the association involves closer involvement with Los Angeles World Airports, the proprietary city department that owns Van Nuys. The airport tenants and LAWA have long been at odds with each other over rental fees, airport operations and other issues. Now, Castagna wants the two sides to work together on economic development initiatives. Evidence to Castagna that LAWA is serious about doing better financially was the new budget for Van Nuys that had costs coming in below anticipated revenue. In previous years, the airport had operated at a deficit. “That is a huge hurdle we have overcome,” Castagna said.