Monday, November 7, 2005
Area airports in transition
Hangars being rented to non-aviation businesses
By Marianne Love
The Pasadena (CA) Star-News
Brackett Field in La Verne and El Monte Airport in El Monte are undergoing a transition that some say is propelling them away from aviation. Hangars at county-owned fields are being rented to businesses willing to pay more for the space. Therefore, electric companies, auto and boat repair mechanics, upholsterers and an Internet business are setting up shop, angering existing tenants and aircraft aficionados.
“The county has allowed (the airport manager) to charge 25percent more for nonaviation storage. They don’t want to run the airports anymore, but it’s being done on the backs of pilots, aircraft owners and business,” said Gabriel Lopez, a former flight school owner who has been around El Monte Airport since 1963 and still maintains a hangar.
County and airport officials say that’s not the case.
Kris Thabit, president of Santa Monica-based American Airports Corp. which manages the five county-owned airports, said airports are closing, so hangar space at airports still operating is at a premium.
“There aren’t many choices. We’re only involved in setting rates at very few hangars. Because of the demand, rates have gone up and older tenants don’t like that, they aren’t accustomed to it and others are interested in the space and paying rents current in the industry,” Thabit said. “This concept of us pushing business off the airport is erroneous and not true.”
He said it’s the county, not his company, that sets most of the rental rates.
The county sets about 90percent of the rental rates.
Ted Gustin, chief of the county’s aviation division of public works, said the numbers don’t back up the claims of existing aviation businesses being forced out.
Aviation businesses at El Monte went from nine in 2000 to eight in 2005, he said. Brackett’s aviation businesses increased from 10 five years ago to 11 currently.
But aviation advocates say the airports are being mismanaged, promises broken and rents skyrocketing, while revenues dip, landings and take-offs slacking and jobs threatened amounting to the lost of thousands of dollars in revenues to taxpayers.
In 2000, an estimated 249,000 airplanes took off and landed at Brackett and 177,000 were registered during 2004. At El Monte, 174,000 operations took place in 2000 versus 153,000 in 2004.
Thabit said part of the slowdown at the airfields was due to the Sept.11, 2001, terrorism attacks, which caused people to cut back on flying. He said another reason for the decrease at Brackett was because a flight school had left.
Business owners who refused to speak on the record for fear of retaliation, said as their leases come up for renewal, proposed rents have been increased by 300 percent or 400 percent and they don’t think they can stay in business.
In general, hangars in excess of 3,000 square feet rent for about 50cents per square foot, Thabit said.
Stephen Thomas, 38, saw his rent go from $300 to $385 a month last year at El Monte.
Thomas, a self-described “aviation purist” from Pasadena, said hangars should only be used for airplane-related activities and bears the rate increase because of his love for flying.
“I’m 100 percent sure, in the long term, airports won’t be here anymore,” Thomas said.
Between the two airports, Gustin said at least three leases were in negotiations.
One business has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against American Airports Corp. – the operator of El Monte and Brackett airports since November 2000.
Lightning Aircraft Corp., an El Monte Airport-based training, rental and maintenance operation, is alleging fraud, breach of oral contract and eight other allegations.
“The airport is being mismanaged. There’s loss of revenue, loss of taxation because this is an inept company,” said Charles T. Mathews, a Pasadena attorney handling the case. “There’s been four managers in four years at El Monte. There’s no continuity. Management is designed to gouge others. The opportunity to generate money is so apparent, it’s been squandered and the calamity of lost opportunities is hurting the public.”