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Five Finalists Vying for Lindbergh Contract

Lindbergh Field’s fixed base operator contract, which entails private plane operations at San Diego’s main airport, is up for grabs next year and there are five finalists seeking it.

The finalists for the contract are: Signature Flight Support; Alliance Aviation Management Ltd.; Atlantic Aviation Services; Landmark Aviation; and Ross Aviation.

Though airport officials were mostly taciturn about the awarding process, and said little about the finalists (narrowed from a field of seven), there’s lots of behind the scenes jockeying that accompanies any multiyear, multimillion dollar contract by a public agency.

At least two of the final companies have hired publicists to help their case, and practically all companies are part of much larger organizations with deep pockets.

That’s an important factor because the agency that manages Lindbergh, the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, has made it clear it expects the operator to shoulder what could be tens of millions of dollars of capital improvements for a new fixed base operations site.

Qualified Candidates

Troy Leech, director of real estate at Lindbergh, said the five groups were chosen on the basis of past experience operating similar fixed base locations, and the groups’ financial capability.

“We were looking at those we thought were the best qualified and capable of delivering a new facility and operating it at a high level,” Leech said.

Just exactly what that will require is hard to say at this point, Leech said, as the detailed specifications on the contract are contained in a request for proposals report that won’t be released for a few weeks.

Once that document is issued, the finalists will have 45 days to respond. From that point, the responses will be evaluated by airport staff, and it will make a recommendation to the airport authority board of directors for a vote Jan. 5, Leech said.

The companies are well aware that the current site for the private plane terminal and hangar is being relocated north of the runway, and that will require a significant capital outlay, Leech said.

Only one of the finalists provided an estimated project cost. Signature Flight Support, based in Orlando, Fla., and owned by BBA Aviation Plc, a British corporation, said it planned to spend $30 million to $40 million for capital improvements at the site.

The current FBO company, Houston-based Landmark, purchased the lease contract from Jimsair in July 2008 for an undisclosed price after the former operator and the airport authority got into a dispute about the former FBO’s attempt to extend its contract beyond the 2012 expiration.

“We’ve been working with architects and contractors on what’s the best way to develop the site, but we haven’t firmed up the number (of dollars it expects to invest) yet,” said David Barnes, executive vice president of business development for Landmark.

Jack Monger, who represents Signature, said as the sole public company vying for the contract, it has an advantage over the rest of the field because all of its financial data is transparent, and it’s not owned by private equity investor groups that usually want to sell after five or six years.

Signature is also the largest FBO operator in the nation with more than 100 locations worldwide, and six in Southern California, including John Wayne International Airport in Orange County, according to Monger.

Time for a Change

Airport officials say the Landmark site has outlived its usefulness. “It’s a 40-year facility and we recognize that it’s time to build a new one,” Leech said.

The vacated site will provide added space for commercial jets to idle while waiting for takeoff, she said.

In addition to the new FBO site, the 89-acre area north of Lindbergh’s single runway will see a few other new structures.

To the west of the new FBO site is a planned cargo facility serving the airlines, and just west of that is a planned receiving and distribution warehouse center serving the airport concessions that is scheduled to begin construction shortly. To the northwest of the FBO, the airport is also planning to build a consolidated rental car facility.

The projects are part of an airport master plan that is expected to be completed in 2015. The estimated cost for all the new north side development is $338 million, not including the FBO part, which is being financed by the winning company, according to airport spokeswoman Katie Jones.

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