SAN BERNARDINO – After two years of organizational restructuring following a federal criminal investigation, San Bernardino International Airport will see a spate of new development in the next year, including dozens of new hangars and construction of the Sheriff’s Department’s new aviation division.
It’s development airport officials see as promising at a time when not far to the west Ontario is struggling to gain control of its airport.
County supervisors are preparing to enter into a 25-year, $11.6-million lease agreement with SBIA to relocate the sheriff’s aviation division from Rialto Airport, which is closing June 30, to San Bernardino.
“The movement of the sheriff’s aviation division to SBIA will have a major positive effect and be the basis for creating a new general aviation area that will not only house the sheriff but also include additional tenants in general aviation hangars,” said A.J. Wilson, executive director at San Bernardino International Airport.
If all goes according to schedule, the sheriff’s aviation division, which has been housed at Rialto Airport since 1971, hopes to be moved in at San Bernardino and operational in January or February 2015. The new facility will consolidate the division’s emergency operations and aviation and volunteer forces units, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said.
A sizeable chunk of funding for the project will come from Rialto, which will pay SBIA $4.1 million up front to cover the cost of relocation. Rialto will also pay SBIA a portion of the profits from the sale of its airport land to developers, estimated to be anywhere from $15 million to $30 million, Wilson said, adding that the new aviation facilities will also increase demand for fuel services at SBIA, which is $1.74 cheaper per gallon than at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, according to a marketing study commissioned by the SBIA board of directors last year.
Local control a ‘common thread’
The developments at SBIA comes at a time when LA/Ontario International Airport continues to battle it out with Los Angeles World Airports over local control. Earlier this month, Ontario announced it was moving forward with a lawsuit against LAWA after failing to reach an agreement with them over Los Angeles’ sale of the airport to Ontario.
Roy Goldberg, an attorney representing the city of Ontario in the lawsuit, said local control allows government to provide special incentives to attract business and development to airports such as tax breaks, reduced airport fees and air fares, and revenue sharing, among other things.
Despite the differences between LA/ONT and SBIA, the common thread, Goldberg said, is local control.
“At the end of the day … local government control can work wonders,” Goldberg said.
In fact, Ontario’s loss could be San Bernardino’s gain, based on last year’s marketing study that the board received in January.
“Some level of uncertainty pertaining to the future of ONT (within commercial air segment) and associated PR efforts to combat this may create a hole where SBD can effectively focus the discussion on general aviation,” reads the report, which the San Bernardino airport board commissioned in August.
The study also points to a potential opportunity to reach out to former customers of Atlantic Aviation, which closed its fixed-base operation at Ontario International, and to coax away carriers that offer flights to Gaudalajra, Mexico.
Half of the 1.9 million people who live within half an hour of San Bernardino International Airport are Latino, with more than 40 percent being of Mexican origin. About 25 percent of international travelers from that area are going to or from Mexico, and 8 percent of California’s travel to Guadalajara comes from that service area, according to the report.
But one key lesson from the report was that there’s much more to an airport’s success than commercial flights, said county Supervisor James Ramos, who sits on the airport board.
“If Ontario is successful, does that make SBIA successful? I’m not sure they’re tied together,” Ramos said. “People see a successful airport as planes taking off and landing. But a huge part is maintenance, repair and overhaul. At SBIA they actually increased jobs from 2008 to where we are now, and that builds that momentum that allows us to come after those fixed-base operators.”
The SBIA marketing study projects 41,000 aircraft to be in service by 2032 – double the current number – increasing maintenance demands.
And there’s potentially significant pickup from businesses that, like SBIA, are based on the site of the former Norton Air Force Base, including Stater Bros. and Amazon.
Need a destination
But the study also points to difficulties in overcoming the fact that San Bernardino isn’t currently considered a destination – “seldom do operators fly into an airport to visit unless there are substantial amenities at the airport or within the surrounding area” – a crowded marketplace and high-profile missteps including the prosecution of major airport developer Scot Spencer.
“Stories will need to overcome the negative background that pervades the industry regarding SBD,” the study advises, referring to the San Bernardino airport.
In September 2011, the FBI raided San Bernardino International Airport, hauling away boxes of documents that filled a U-haul truck. Eighteen months later, county prosecutors charged former airport developer Spencer and a business associate, Felice Luciano, of conspiracy to commit grand theft. The charges stem from a $1.75 million claim Spencer filed against the airport regarding a charter jet lease agreement that prosecutors equate with fraud.
Spencer and Luciano will next appear in court on April 10 for a pretrial hearing.
Since the FBI raid at the airport and a backlash of negative publicity, the airport has hired a new executive director, Wilson, and restructured its middle management team, with Mark Gibbs being named deputy director of aviation and Michael Burrows, the airport’s former assistant director, being named deputy director of construction and development.
Last month, Wilson announced the hiring of former federal audit manager and Inland Empire native William Garay as the airport’s new finance director.
The looming closure of Rialto Airport has prompted about a dozen of its approximately 50 tenants to express an interest in relocating to San Bernardino, where 30 general aviation hangars will be built this year in addition to the sheriff’s proposed 61,640-square-foot aviation facility.
The item on the sheriff’s facility will go before the Board of Supervisors for consideration at its Feb. 25 meeting, county spokesman David Wert said.
That facility also includes a storage hangar, office building and nearly 350,000 square feet of new infrastructure. More hangars will subsequently be built as future demand warrants, said Mark Gibbs, the airport’s deputy director of aviation.
The new hangars at SBIA will be built on a 32-acre site on the airport’s north end where an old facility once existed at Norton. The facility was demolished to make for the new development, Gibbs said.
One longtime Rialto Airport tenant, Judy Scholl, has already entered into a 20-year lease at SBIA and will be relocating her six single-engine, 6-gear airplanes – five Pipers and one Cessna – to San Bernardino when the general aviation hangars there are built.
Scholl’s late husband, Art, moved his burgeoning flight school, Art Scholl Aviation, from Flabob Airport in Riverside to Rialto Airport in 1978. Art Scholl was a renowned stunt pilot who was killed in a plane crash in 1985 during the filming of the hit action film “Top Gun.”
Judy Scholl closed her late husband’s flight school in 2008 but remained a tenant. She too is a licensed pilot and takes to the skies regularly.
“We gave a lot of consideration on where to relocate, and San Bernardino is a beautiful airport with tremendous potential,” Scholl said Friday. “It has had some issues in the past, but they’ve been working real hard to make this airport an asset to the city, and it will be more valuable as time goes by. I’m very proud to be a part of it.”