Airports panel charts new course for Fox and other county fields

Larry Grooms, special to Aerotech News

For the first time in the 30 years, since management and operations of community airports in Los Angeles County was contracted out to private enterprises, the county’s Airports Advisory Commission met Aug. 25 with in-house managers from the Aviation Division of the Department of Public Works.

Until Aug. 1, American Airports Corp. held the contract for management and operations of the five county-owned general aviation airports, including the largest, Gen. William J. Fox Field at Lancaster, Calif.

Harvey Holloway, a private pilot and Antelope Valley commercial real estate broker, is chairman of the 10-member Aviation Commission which advises the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on operations and development of county airports.

In an interview with Aerotech News and Review, Holloway said the county has been in the process of ending its contract with American Airports for about two years. He said the move to transition from private operations management to a division of a county government department was primarily driven by customer complaints about airport pricing. And it was pricing for aviation fuel that became the first order of business on the 25th after it was pointed out the wording in minutes from the previous meeting indicated  fuel prices can vary from one county airport to another by up to 20 percent. Commissioners altered the wording to say fuel prices at each airport are to be based on the distance tankers travel to deliver fuel.

Another new wrinkle in meeting procedure involved a change in management briefings to commissioners. Prior to the August meeting, commissioners received monthly briefings on operations from the contracted manager of each airport, as well as overall information from the Aviation Division of Public Works. But along with departure of management contractor American Airports came a wave of across-the-board changes in staffing, creating vacancies and confusion at the airports.

The vacancy created by the departure of Fox Field’s longtime manager this spring was just filled by appointment of Samuel Maghakian as acting airport manager. He was transferred from his position as the Aviation Division’s Airport Projects Coordinator in the Los Angeles headquarters offices.

In light of the management personnel shuffle, operational reports to the commission fell to County Airports Assistant Deputy Chief Jason Morgan, previously the division’s principal engineer, and Assistant Deputy Director Arthur “Art” Vander Vis.

On current affairs, the two reported that all airports are experiencing difficulties in getting dependable and adequate supplies of aviation fuels, primarily due to a nationwide shortage of truck drivers. They reported additional fuel storage is being arranged for Fox Field. Beyond that issue, they said transition from corporate to county airports management resulted in customer headaches over billing, credit card acceptance policies and key card gate access failures.

Looking over the horizon, the county executives asked commissioners for their thoughts on regular and informative operational reports and proposed a new vision statement and airports marketing plan. The former contractor returned to the county about $63,000 unspent from an annual $100,000 marketing allocation.

On the creation of a new vision statement for the county’s general aviation airports, Morgan left Commissioners with a list of key word possibilities, including: Smart, Active, Sustainable, Safe, Latest Technology and Environmentally Friendly.

In public comments, the final caller into the online virtual meeting, identifying himself as Dr. Haney, said the prior management organization and the county department had two years to do the transition, and failed. And on the marketing plan, he commented, “How do we market the airports to aviation?”

The commission meets next at 7 p.m., Sept. 29.

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