San Diego- Airport Authority Eyeing Takeover of Private Aircraft Service

Saturday, August 6, 2005
Airport authority eyeing takeover of private aircraft service
By MARK WALKER
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

For more than 50 years, the Escondido-based Bracamonte family has operated Jimsair Aviation Services, the only company now providing private aircraft services at Lindbergh Field. For more than 10 years, Jimsair says it has been seeking approval for a new lease and a $17 million expansion plan that would add more hangar space and a three-story terminal with a top-floor eatery that would reprise the family’s former Windsock Restaurant, which was closed a few years ago.

For more than three years, company officials say the staff and board of directors of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority have been saying they would work with it to accommodate the expansion plans.

But over the last three months, the authority staff has been changing what it says about Jimsair, according to company officials, adding they’re becoming increasingly convinced the agency wants Jimsair gone so it can assume the private aircraft service business.

“It’s been a real surprise to us,” said Escondido’s Phil Bracamonte, president of Jimsair and son of founder Santiago “Jim” Bracamonte, an Escondido resident who passed away in August of last year. “Until now, there was never an indication they might decide to change course so late in the game.”

Bryan Enarson, the airport authority’s vice president of development, said this week that having the authority assume private aircraft services such as fueling, cleaning and charter business is only a possibility. Other options include renewing Jimsair’s lease or adding one or even two more private aircraft service providers.

“We have not limited the scope of what we are looking at,” Enarson said, adding the staff will outline options at a September authority board meeting.

Jimsair has its own fleet of aircraft available for charter on a per-trip or block-purchase basis in which customers pay $25,000 and use that account until it has been spent. It also owns and operates a cafe and pilot’s lounge as well as providing general aviation maintenance and related services.

This year, the company will pay the authority about $1 million a year for its lease as well as a percentage of its concession revenues.

Airport authority staffers are studying whether the agency should take over the work of Jimsair as they also complete a $536 million expansion plan to meet increases passenger and cargo demand anticipated over the next 10 years.

The plan, funded through airport revenues and federal grants, calls for relocating private aircraft services to another area on the airport grounds, enlarging the airport’s Terminal 2, adding 10 more gates and expanding aircraft and automobile parking.

Because the permitting and construction for a new air field would take years, the expansion will occur even if the authority and county voters decide next year to build a new airport. The authority has to come up with a recommendation to meet future airport needs in time for a November 2006 ballot issue.

Jimsair attorney Lee Burdick said that after months of trying to move ahead on the company’s lease and relocation issues, she now believes the authority staff has only one interest.

“It’s become increasingly clear that they want to terminate the lease and take over,” Burdick said. “That is where our indignation comes in.”

Jimsair has a little more than six years remaining on its lease, but the authority has the option of buying it out after giving the company six months’ notice.

On Wednesday, Jimsair had 10 private aircraft parked at its ramp on the airport’s northern side, evidence of the continuing demand for general aviation services at Lindbergh, Burdick said. Jimsair handles about 1,400 arrivals and departures each month at its 11-acre facility.

General aviation at Lindbergh fell from a peak of more than 120,000 annual operations in 1970 to about slightly more than 15,000 last year. Through the year 2030, the authority estimates that general aviation will account for about 7 percent of total air field operations.

The airport has to accommodate general aviation because it receives federal funds. Other than corporate and private jets, most shy away from Lindbergh, however, because of the airplane traffic and comparatively high landing fees.

Similar services to those provided by Jimsair are available at Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport, where $33 million in upgrades to its Premier Jet Business Aviation Support Center are under way. McClellan-Palomar is home to more than 400 aircraft, including many corporate jets that either don’t want to be in San Diego or can’t find the room.

Jimsair started its Lindbergh business in 1952. The company traces its beginning to Peruvian native Santiago Bracamonte, who came to the United States in 1946 to study aircraft maintenance, eventually settling in San Diego.

In 1950, he opened an airplane shop in Del Mar, moving the business to Lindbergh two years later.

Burdick said Wednesday that Jimsair is now pitted in a “fight for the life of the company.” She contended that the authority staff has resisted repeated direction from authority board members to make strides in resolving the relocation and lease issues with Jimsair.

Bracamonte said his company will continue to try to secure a new lease.

“We think the authority’s expertise is in operating the airport and providing a facility for airline passengers, not in the business we do,” he said.

Authority board member Robert Maxwell of Oceanside said he does not think the authority has an agenda when it comes to Jimsair.

“The staff is taking a look at future development and future requirements and needs,” he said. “Jimsair might not be entirely happy with what they are doing but the staff has certainly taken Jimsair’s requests into account and the issue hasn’t been settled.”

Editor’s Note: Sounds suspiciously similar to the FBO issue at Gillespie Field. After years of service to the aviation community, the county tries to improve its tax situation at the cost of the FBO.

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