Orange County FBO award battle

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FBO Files Part 13 Complaint Against John Wayne Airport (SNA)

This Award Contest Could Have Been Avoided

One of the nation’s best known FBO brands, Signature Flight Support Corporation (“Signature”), has filed a formal Part 13 Complaint against John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA), owned and operated by the County of Orange. The 10 page request to initiate an investigation of SNA written by Morrison & Foerster’s William V. O’Connor drew a 43 page response by the County Counsel for Orange County. The record includes a copy of an email (a document attached to one of the articles) to Leon Page, the OC lawyer who answered the Part 13 document from Kenneth Quin of Pillsbury. The former FAA Chief Counsel reports a conversation which he had with agency staff about its preference for resolution.

That’s a lot of talented, expensive lawyers involved in a nasty, contentious administrative process. The dollars to be dedicated to this SNA FBO award contest could well have been avoided at several points in the management of SNA.

Morrison & Foerster’s William V. O’Connor

SNA is owned and operated by the Orange Supervisors, an elected body.

John Wayne Airport Organizational Chart

John Wayne Airport Organizational Chart

The Airport poses unique challenges, not the least of which is the strictures created by Congress and by delegation, the FAA. The policy rational for these requirements derive from a number of factors—

  • an airport is a locational monopoly, and as such must strictly adhere to fairness, transparency and discrimination tests
  • the airport receives federal grants and thus Congress has imposed rules about exclusivity, non-discrimination, etc.

Awarding two FBO franchises is one of those carefully scrutinized events.

The ability to manage/govern the economic activities on an airport depends on the quality of the minimum standards. The specificity of an RFP is another measure of an airport’s ability to make defensible awards.

If for example, there are allegations that an existing airport concession is charging exorbitant prices, then a strong set of minimum standards would provide the Airport Director with the authority to address that concern. Another iteration using this example, if the Airport Director cannot or did not take action against an incumbent, then the RFP terms should include (i) a new stronger remedy for such a problem and/or (ii) a new contractual requirement that the concession may only charge reasonable prices.

Professionals with Accredited Airport Executive (A.A.E.) and/or Airport Certified Employee (ACE) credentials knew how to use all of these tools and surely took the proper actions to meet all of the challenges. It would appear that whoever was involved in the final decisions was not as sensitive to these niceties.

As this case evolves (unless some compromise is reached), suppositions may be converted to facts and what really happened will be put on the record. Closer attention to these requirements in the future should improve the quality of the decision and minimize the need for repeats of this squabble.


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