Aviation Commission June 2022 Turbulence hits new management route

One day short of a year since the Department of Public Works began the takeover in operation of five county-owned airports from a private contractor, the oversight commission for the Board of Supervisors got a progress report and an uncertain vision of what’s ahead.

Paul Maselbas, assistant deputy director of the Aviation Division of the L.A. County Department of Public Works, delivered a comprehensive but not yet completed statistical report covering the less than full year period in which the county department and former contractor were in various stages of transition, including office management, mixed personnel and staffing assignments, fueling operations and general maintenance, among others.

In response to questions from Airports Commission Chairman Curt Castagna, Maselbas said the actual turnover didn’t officially occur until Aug. 20-21, and even now some financial negotiations remain under way with contractor American Airports.

Revenue Projections shown considering an Operating Surplus/Deficit line items chart appear to suggest county assumptions about achieving savings by bringing full management in-house overestimated.

In the matter of fueling operations, commissioners heard that since taking over from the contractor, county airports are losing money every month, while trying to sell avgas for less. DPW hourly labor costs were cited as one cause of the imbalance in fuels pricing and service, as was the fact the county had to rent fuel trucks for some airports when the contractor departed.

In the closing public comments segment of the virtual meeting, one caller told the commission the price of avgas is $1 a gallon cheaper at airports outside of Los Angeles County. He cited Chino Airport as an example.

Monthly airports operations and fuel sales reports from Division Assistant Chief Jason Morgan showed fuel sales at all five county airports were up 10 percent in May from the same period a year ago, and takeoffs and landings at the four airports with control towers to record the data were also up 10 percent year over year.

Maselbas said the long-term concern for the airports system is what could happen if the county airports system’s deficit trend isn’t reversed over the coming decade. Some steps are already under way or are expected to be soon, including more attention to removing non-aviation users from hangars, evicting non-operative or abandoned aircraft from hangar storage, updating rates and fees surveys and outsourcing fueling services.

The Commission doesn’t meet in July. Its next meeting will be held Aug. 31.

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