The Federal Aviation Administration has dismissed a complaint against Orange County by the world’s largest operator of private-plane airport bases alleging that county supervisors rigged a February contracting process to award a lucrative John Wayne Airport lease to a low-ranked applicant.
The FAA issued its ruling on Friday, July 21, saying that the county followed proper procedures when it awarded the lease to run the airport’s private-plane terminals to ACI Jet, the second-to-last ranked company, rather than Signature Flight Support, the incumbent and top-ranked operator.
Orlando-based Signature, which operated at John Wayne Airport for 20 years and contracts at more than 200 airports worldwide, alleged that ACI’s general manager met with county supervisors in 2016 to secure the board’s support, making the actual bidding process a sham.
But the FAA said the board pointed out that the county had announced prior to the bidding that fuel pricing would not be included in the ranking but would still factor into the board’s final decision.
In fact, the county supervisors were motivated to search for a new operator after they discovered that fuel prices posted by Signature and Atlantic Aviation – the airport’s other longtime private-plane terminal operator – were frequently within pennies of one another and much higher than at Long Beach Airport, where Signature also operates. Supervisor Shawn Nelson accused the companies of abusing a government-created monopoly, while Signature said less than 5 percent of its fuel was sold at the full posted price.
The FAA stated: “It was well within the county’s discretion to choose a new applicant that would provide specific services of pricing that the county deems desirable.”
In addition to the FAA complaint, Signature sued the county in March in Superior Court. That lawsuit is ongoing.
Atlantic and ACI Jet now conduct private-plane operations at the airport.