Van Nuys Airport has established itself not only as the world’s busiest general aviation airfield, but as a premier business aircraft destination. Home to more than 200 aviation companies, it features four FBO providers and several maintenance providers, including Western Jet Aviation, which is celebrating an anniversary of its own
Located 20 miles or so from Los Angeles International, Van Nuys Airport (VNY) is the world’s busiest general aviation airport, a fact Airport Manager Flora Margheritis says makes it: “…a vital economic engine that contributes approximately $2 billion annually to the Southern California economy and supports over 10,000 jobs. As part of the regional approach to meeting passenger demand, VNY reduces congestion, enhances safety and diminishes flight delays at nearby airports.”
Which means it handles a lot of traffic. Yet business aviation remains a priority and Margheritis notes: “Investment in business aviation not only benefits pilots and passengers, but promotes economic growth and job creation for the entire community. In partnership with our tenants, users and operators, VNY will continue to find innovative ways to advance into the future.
“VNY recently completed a security enhancement project, for example, that included major improvements to perimeter fencing, lighting and signage, plus the closure or restriction of dozens of high-volume access gates. Currently, a $26.3-million taxiway rehabilitation project is under way, representing the first of three projects to ensure a 20-year taxiway lifespan and significantly improve airport operating areas. And, over the past five years, our tenants have committed to $65 million in capital improvement projects that will enable the airport to maintain its world-class status.”
Under this ethos of improvement, VNY also takes its environmental responsibility very seriously. “We’re at the forefront of environmental sustainability for general aviation airports,” Margheritis explains. “We were the first business airport to earn Airport Carbon Accreditation Level 2 from Airports Council International and we’re working toward achieving Level 3. We can also generate more electricity from solar panel projects than any other general aviation airport in the state, sufficient to power 8,000 homes and reduce CO2 emissions by more than 73 million lb per year. In addition, VNY was the first general aviation airport in the nation to offer sustainable alternative jet fuel on a trial basis, which means fewer emissions and cleaner air for the community.
“Mitigating the impact of aircraft operations on airport neighbours is also a top priority, and VNY has a long history of implementing some of the most stringent mandatory and voluntary noise management programmes of any general aviation airport in the US.”
So, why do business and VIP flyers come to Van Nuys? “It’s located less than 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles and within a short freeway drive of major centres of commerce, entertainment, finance, culture and industry. Home to four major fixed based operators and multiple aviation service companies, the airport caters to the full demands of business aircraft. With two parallel north-south runways, an instrument landing system, and 24-hour airport operations and police staffing, VNY maintains a level of safety and security that far exceeds federal standards for general aviation airports.”
Castle & Cooke, Clay Lacy, Jet Aviation and Signature Flight Support all operate Van Nuys FBOs. For Castle & Cooke, VNY is home to its corporate headquarters and an FBO, making a total of 255,000sqft of office, shop and hangar space, along with 205,000sqft of ramp area, located on the airport’s west side. As with its Honolulu and Everett FBOs, Castle & Cooke’s Van Nuys facility offers Avfuel contract fuel and AVTRIP points.
Clay Lacy Aviation (CLA) operates a full-service FBO at Van Nuys Airport, open 24 hours, 365 days per year. Its staff of just over 50 is joined by more than 250 others, the company proudly citing its ability to support any aircraft capable of landing at Van Nuys, from small propeller machines, through helicopters to large commercial VIP aircraft including the BBJ and ACJ.
An authorised dealer for Honeywell, Garmin, Collins Aerospace, Gogo, SmartSky, Flight Display Systems and others, CLA’s Van Nuys presence also includes an FAA Part 145 repair station and provides flight line maintenance on all business jets. Beyond that, inspection services are available on a variety of Gulfstream, Falcon, Hawker, Bombardier and Embraer models; CLA’s Van Nuys facility is an Authorized Service Center for the Embraer Phenom 100 and 300.
Scott Cutshall, VP Marketing at CLA, sums up its VNY presence: “We’re an aircraft management and charter operator under both Part 91 and Part 135 with worldwide authority. We hold IS-BAO Stage III, the longest standing Wyvern Wingman and ARGUS Platinum ratings and our full-service FBO offers all the expected facilities, including aircraft ground handling, coordination of catering, ground transportation, hotel reservations and conference room facilities.” Preparing for the future, he says: “We recently completed renovation on a 72,000sqft hangar to house our maintenance, repair and overhaul divisions,” but even then, it’s only part of the CLA/VNY story.
Among the pioneers of business aviation, Clay Lacy landed his first business jet at Van Nuys in 1964, establishing Clay Lacy Aviation at the airport four years later. Today, CLA is Van Nuys’ largest employer.
Although it traces its origins to 1967, Jet Aviation came to Van Nuys only recently, taking control of its lease in June 2016, explains Michael McDaniel, Director & GM FBO Van Nuys. “The facility encompassed nine structures, including hangars and two umbrellas/shades, but there was no formal FBO. In the months since, we’ve undergone a major new construction and renovation project, which will see a brand-new 10,000sqft FBO terminal, 43,000sqft hangar with 8,000sqft of office space, and a 42,000sqft Gulfstream operations centre, including more than 20,000sqft of office and shop space. The hangar has a 30ft clearance, adequate for larger aircraft – the Global 7500, for example.”
As the first new full-service FBO with hangars constructed at VNY since the 1990s, McDaniel says that not only are the Jet Aviation facility’s buildings brand new, but all its equipment is new too.
Alongside its FBO, aircraft management and staffing, charter, refuelling, domestic and international handling, complete line service, aircraft cleaning and nightly hangarage offerings, Jet Aviation also provides maintenance upon request, via its Burbank maintenance centre, the Gulfstream Fast Team, or Bombardier, while the onsite Gulfstream operations centre offers maintenance support immediately, on demand.
McDaniel reckons customers will also appreciate the Jet Aviation ramp. “We have massive ramp space. It’s an unobstructed, deep, long ramp that avoids congestion issues and the need for towing, especially for larger aircraft. They are able to taxi unobstructed on arrival and departure; we also have ample car parking.”
Even at Van Nuys, where every FBO has a story, Signature Flight Support’s presence is unusual. It includes East and West FBO locations, and a limited use facility at the airport’s north end, while Signature also staffs a private operator’s facility on the eastern side of the airport. Digital Marketing Strategy Analyst Matt Franklin says: “Our operations are so dispersed that we operate a dispatch office on top of our VNY East FBO, to help track ground movements.”
Both FBOs offer everything one would expect for passengers and crew, but Franklin notes: “The US Customs and Border Protection [CBP] station located in the terminal building at Van Nuys allows international guests to exit the aircraft and proceed directly to passport processing and onwards without having to clear remotely. Up to the point when the CBP facility was opened in 2015, international visitors had to land at an area airport to clear customs before completing a final leg to VNY.”
Crew and passengers are also likely to appreciate the Tesla Supercharging stations installed at Signature VNY East, a first in the Signature network. They might also recognise Signature Van Nuys as a backdrop from reality television shows, where it is regularly the setting for celebrities returning to or leaving the US. And, Franklin observes, “Signature VNY West’s entrance, just off Sherman Way, gives many crews the unusual opportunity to drive underneath 34L/16R, a rarity among general aviation airports.”
Like Jet Aviation, Signature’s presence at VNY is relatively recent. Hawker Beechcraft built Signature Van Nuys West in 1991, Signature purchasing the company’s FBOs in 2008. Signature East was established as Peterson Aviation in 1992, passing to Maguire Aviation in 2008. Signature purchased Maguire in 2014. Today, Signature Van Nuys handles a variety of aircraft types, from single-engine pistons to BBJ and AJCs. And Franklin is particularly proud to explain: “Signature was among the first US FBOs to provide sustainable alternative jet fuel for general aviation when, in February 2019, we fuelled a Challenger 350 with a sustainable jet fuel blend. Signature VNY has also provided support for CAL FIRE water tanker aircraft during the Southern California fire season.”
Two Decades at VNY
Among VNY’s maintenance providers, Western Jet Aviation provides scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and AOG support, 12- through 192-month inspections, 5,000 landing inspections, structural repairs, engine and APU troubleshooting, repairs, line maintenance and rigging, while its avionics competencies include complete cockpit and cabin upgrades and repairs, with expertise in Wi-Fi, ADS-B/FANS and cabin management systems; it’s also an authorised dealer for Honeywell, Collins Aerospace, Universal Avionics and most of the major OEMs. Western Jet is a specialist and parts supplier for all models of Gulfstream and Twin Commander, with further avionics capabilities in Bombardier, Citation, Hawker, Falcon, Boeing, Piaggio, Pilatus and other fixed-wing business aircraft, and various rotorcraft.
It’s a broad spectrum of services to which WJA Management adds aircraft management, while associated companies cover charter, paint and interior work. And, significantly, although it was established only in 1999, Western Jet’s heritage at Van Nuys stretches back almost as far as Clay Lacy Aviation’s. Sales & Marketing executive Gail Erwin explains.
“Our founder, Jim Hansen began his aviation career at Van Nuys Airport, on February 12, 1973, right after graduating from Northrop Institute of Technology in Inglewood. Hired as a line mechanic at The Jet Center on Daily Drive, Jim soon advanced to lead mechanic, shop foreman and then parts department manager. Jim played a significant role in the Jet Center’s storied success and was especially disheartened to witness its closure after multiple mergers and acquisitions.
“But Jet Center’s demise provided a perfect window of opportunity. Jim found himself taking care of a handful of customers’ aircraft but with no full-time job. He’d dreamed of owning his own company and now a few of those clients wanted him on their aircraft full time and asked him to start in business.
“Western Jet Aviation opened its doors on September 13, 1999. It has grown to almost 80 employees and specialises in Gulfstream maintenance, with close to 300 full-time clients. The addition of a state of the art avionics department in 2009 positioned Western Jet for meeting NextGen mandates and providing the latest in Wi-Fi and sophisticated cabin entertainment systems.
“Expansion continued with the addition of aircraft management, on-site custom paint and design through Mike Boal Designs, expert interior services with Extraord-N-Air and charter through tenant Mira Vista, operating an exclusive, all-Gulfstream fleet.
“Jim believes a strong business is founded upon good people who value quality and exceeding customer expectations. Reflecting upon Western Jet’s 20th anniversary milestone, he says he feels exceptionally blessed to be surrounded by the ‘best’ employees and customers, local service providers and the very supportive management and personnel at Van Nuys Airport, all of whom have helped make Western Jet Aviation a world-class organisation.”