A Difference of Opinion

SAN DIEGO — Montgomery Field, located just north of this serene city, is owned and operated by the City of San Diego. It sees some 275,000 annual operations and is home to 650 based aircraft as well as, for nearly 70 years, fixed base operator GIBBS...

Gibbs says the FBO has built 150,000 square feet of hangar space at Montgomery Field and some 800,000 square feet of asphalt, with 60 tie-down spaces.

Lease Stay Granted

In May, says Gibbs, the city council overruled the airport’s decision and agreed to a one-year lease extension for the FBO. “They wrote a one-year hold over for a minimum of a year,” he explains. “Basically it kept all the same legal terms and conditions [of the previous lease]; it’s just that we paid a new rental amount — more fair to everybody, according to them [the city council].”

Gibbs expects the city will issue a request for proposals (RFP) to lease the facilities and land and says he will again submit a proposal.

The annual agreement that the city entered into with Gibbs allows the city some flexibility in issuing the new RFP without a gap in service, says Means.

She says the city is reviewing its options for the area currently occupied by Gibbs. “The facilities and structures are old,” she says. “Some of them may need to be replaced or the entire area redeveloped.”

At this time, Means is uncertain as to when the RFP will be issued, stating that the city’s real estate department is currently involved in another RFP, “I think they want some closure on that first.”

Montgomery Field’s Future

Montgomery Field is largely built out, says Means, in terms of what land is available for development. She adds that the city is not interested in getting into the FBO business. “I would never recommend that the city get into the FBO business. I think the private sector is better suited for that.

“I’ve heard rumors that the city was trying to take over GIBBS. The city would never want to take over GIBBS Flying Service. When the lease was written it was clearly spelled out that the improvements would revert to the city at the termination of the lease.”

The 20-year master plan for Montgomery Field, explains Means, “calls for redeveloping the existing facilities that have either outlived their useful life or will be aging. Over the years, the airport has grown and developed into facilities that probably made sense when they were laid out that way in the ‘50s. But if you were to redo it today, you’d do it a little differently. For example, we don’t have a real terminal building. The master plan does discuss developing a real terminal building.” The new terminal which Means describes would redevelop/modernize existing facilities.

Because of the constraints of the location of Montgomery Field, both Gibbs and Means agree that it will always be a light aircraft airport. Means says a “fear” in the community is that if GIBBS leaves Montgomery Field, the city will begin pursuing higher-end jet traffic — displacing the single-engine pistons. “That doesn’t make sense for us because our runway (4,600 feet) is too short for jets,” says Means. The airfield is also restricted to 20,000 pounds maximum gross takeoff weight.

Gibbs admits that originally, when his proposals to renegotiate the lease were rejected, he wasn’t going to fight to stay at Montgomery Field. “In my second meeting with the city, I said I’d like to keep our other little office and hangar so we could dispose of all the stuff, and they agreed to let me stay for six months to dispose of everything. But then we just got so much sympathy and support from our customers that we changed our mind. I’m close to retiring, but I want to do it on my own terms. “Our initial response was ‘okay.’ But the heart really wasn’t in it. But I didn’t have any legal way — there was nothing illegal the city did.”

Gibbs cautions other airport-based businesses to work to renegotiate leases as early as possible. He says he did approach the city about renewing his lease several times much earlier, “but probably didn’t approach it as thoroughly as I could have. This is a cyclical business.

There are times when everything’s going great. And other times it dies down and you say, boy I’m glad I didn’t put a whole bunch of money in here. I think that’s what it is; my timing and their timing obviously didn’t match.”

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