June 20--San Bernardino International Airport's interim executive director, A.J. Wilson, may be retiring, but his departure comes amid some major new arrivals and developments at the airport.
Wilson came out of retirement in November 2011 to help the embattled airport, mired in controversy following an FBI raid, turn itself around. He announced last week he would be retiring at the end of month. He said he feels he has accomplished what he has set out to do and now wants to get back to retirement.
Airport interim board chairman and Loma Linda Councilman Ovidiu Popescu said Friday he and San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis are headed to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Regional Forum at Van Nuys Airport Thursday to network with businesses and see if any are interested in doing business at SBIA.
Van Nuys is one of the most active and prominent general aviation airports in the country. A plane takes off and lands there every 45 seconds, and it bustles with general aviation and commercial business, Popescu said.
But Van Nuys is so busy it is squeezed, and it is far more expensive to do business there, Popescu said.
"It's packed to the hilt. There are airplanes on top of airplanes if you look in their hangars," Popescu said. "To park a jet at Van Nuys it costs $25 a square foot, and at San Bernardino it costs 65 cents a square foot."
Many management organizations that operate aircraft at Van Nuys could be lured to SBIA, and pose the best opportunity to bolster its turbine tenant roster, according to a December 2013 marketing study commissioned by SBIA.
Among the selling points Popescu and Davis will be pitching to businesses include 30 general aviation hangars that are in the process of being built at the airport, which should be completed by this time next year, Popescu said.
On April 15, the airport board approved a five-year lease, at $200,000 annually, with city of Industry-based Unical Aviation Inc., a global supplier of aircraft parts. The lease came with two renewal options at five years each, said Mark Gibbs, the airport's deputy director of aviation.
The company is building a 40,000-square-foot concrete pad on 7 acres which will be used for stripping airplanes, Gibbs said.
Unical also wants to lease an 18,000-square-foot warehouse to store the parts from the dismantled planes. Gibbs said the airport will likely enter into its second lease agreement with Unical later this year, after the company completes development on the 7-acre parcel.
Meanwhile, the airport is just about ready to hire a contractor to build the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department's aviation hangar and administration buildings and 30 general aviation hangars. About 20 tenants from Rialto Municipal Airport, which is closing at the end of the month, have already entered into leases with SBIA for hangar space, Gibbs said.
The sheriff's aviation division was also housed at Rialto.
Boeing has also returned to the airport for two weeks of engine performance testing on a 787-9 Dreamliner jet, said Adam Tischler, a Boeing spokesman.
Boeing had previously done test flights at the airport for its 747-8 and 787-8 programs, Tischler said.
"We utilize SBDIA because of its combination of facilities, atmospheric qualities and geographic location," Tischler said in an e-mail.
SBIA board members are looking forward to moving forward and hiring a permanent replacement for Wilson, one who has a solid background in aviation.
"I want to make sure we find someone who has brought in airlines, has that level of experience," Popescu said. "I'm talking about moving forward into the future."
SBIA board member Josie Gonzales, who also serves as chairwoman for the Inland Valley Development Agency (IVDA), which is responsible for overseeing commercial development on the airport's periphery, has only one gripe: that Wilson did not hire a consultant to begin a recruitment process for his permanent successor, one of the conditions of Wilson being hired as interim airport director in 2011 at a salary of roughly $30,000 a month.
But in fairness to Wilson, Gonzales said he had his hands full with the FBI investigation and ridding the airport of its former developer, Scot Spencer, who along with an East Coast business associate, Felice Luciano, now face felony charges by the District Attorney's Office for allegedly conspiring to steal more than $1 million in public funds from an aircraft leasing scam at the airport.
The FBI raided the airport in September 2011, hauling away boxes of documents that filled a U-haul truck. Eighteen months later, the District Attorney's Office charged Spencer and Luciano.
The FBI investigation remains pending, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
In the less than three years Wilson was in charge of the airport, Governor Jerry Brown dissolved all the state's redevelopment agencies and the city filed for bankruptcy.
"I'm wanting to believe it was those obligations and impacts on time that did not allow for the directive to be carried out," Gonzales said.
Both Gonzales and Popescu believe Wilson did a fine job turning the airport around and getting it to the point where it is now, given the many obstacles he faced and the fact his background was in city administration, not aviation (Wilson was the former city manager of Pomona).
Now, they say it's time to take it to the next level.
Despite the fact the airport still has not landed a commercial airline, the myriad other uses occurring there, combined with the tenants coming next year, show it can still function without passenger airline traffic.
But airport officials will continue pushing to make commercial passenger airline traffic at the airport a reality.
"We're going to turn the situation around, make it as positive as we can, so we get the best outcomes," Gonzales said.
Copyright 2014 - San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.