Orange County To Replace Signature with ACI Jet at SNA

The change comes amid complaints over pricing at the airport.

The Orange County, California, board of supervisors has awarded ACI Jet one of two fixed-base operation leaseholds at Santa Ana’s John Wayne Airport (SNA), giving the company a fourth location in the state. ACI Jet, which provides charter, management, maintenance, and ground handling services, is taking over the east side FBO and west side hangars at SNA from Signature Flight Support, which had run the facilities for at least the past two decades.

The board of supervisors voted four-to-one in favor of the switch amid complaints by some tenants about fuel pricing. Supervisor Shawn Nelson noted that he had received complaints that both Signature and Atlantic Aviation, the other FBO on the airport, had nearly matched each other on pricing that was above market rates.

During the three-plus-hour meeting, some attendees urged a switch in FBOs, saying pricing was as much as 20 percent above market rates. Other businesses at the airport urged caution, worried that a switch could affect their existing agreements and operations. Both FBOs had lowered prices after complaints were brought to light.

Atlantic Aviation CEO Louis Pepper and Julie Broderick, the area director for Signature, based at SNA, told the board that their goals are the same as the county’s. Broderick added that she would work to address concerns.

The county last fall issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for both FBOs on the field and received more than a half-dozen responses. The board opted to retain Atlantic and voted in favor of having a second FBO that was more locally run rather than a national chain. Signature and Atlantic scored similarly in the RFQ process; Nelson said the board chose Atlantic because it was "more responsive."

ACI Jet was awarded a short-term lease, through December 2018, while the county evaluates future changes in its FBO facilities. The county is evaluating possible new facilities that can accommodate much larger business jets. It also will assess its FBO needs, including whether two would be sufficient or a third should be added.

ACI Jet expects to take over the existing operations on March 1.

Andrew Robillard, vice president, FBO and facilities of ACI Jet, will steer the transition at Santa Ana. The company, which operates FBOs at San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Oceano, plans to offer Signature employees the opportunity to interview to continue with ACI Jet SNA.

ACI Jet also plans to relocate aircraft in its charter and management fleet to the new location.

“We are excited to bring our award-winning, independent FBO to Orange County’s John Wayne Airport,” said William Borgsmiller, president of ACI Jet. “A duopoly of sorts has existed at Santa Ana for the past several years between the chain FBOs, and competitive fuel pricing and service has suffered as a result.”

Borgsmiller noted that the pricing “created a disincentive” for operators to use SNA and said, “We intend to change the playing field.”

Douglas Wilson, president and senior partner of FBO Partners, represented ACI Jet during the RFQ process. He said he believes the county decision to switch operators could have ripple effects. "The situation that unfolded at [SNA] is a canary in the coal mine–type event for the FBO industry. Both end users and airports are simply more desirous of a choice in FBOs that includes a strong independent FBO."

Signature Flight Support said it is exploring its options and expects to challenge the decision.