August 2018: Celebrating 90 years of flight

As Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles celebrates its 90th anniversary, Chloë Greenbank takes time out with Flora Margheritis to find out why the airport’s rich aviation heritage is its link to the future.

Working in the airport sector was something Flora Margheritis, airport manager, Van Nuys Airport (VNY) in Los Angeles, USA, set her sights on at an early age.

“I first came to Van Nuys Airport when I was in my early teens in search of a flight school. I was amazed by the number of aircraft and level of activity that I witnessed. By the time I was 18, I had obtained my private pilot certification,” she says.

She recalls it was at this point that her love affair with airports began. “I knew at that point I didn’t want to just ‘land’ at airports, I wanted to work at them. So, I set my sights on getting a bachelor’s degree in aviation administration.”

Her first job, working at an airport gift shop, led to her obtaining a position as a flight dispatcher at a fixed-base operator (FBO) located at Hollywood Burbank Airport. She explains how this combination of hands-on ground handling experience, combined with her college degree and pilot’s certificate paved the way for a job at Los Angeles International Airport. “I started at Los Angeles Airport (LAX) as an entry-level superintendent of operations and was quickly promoted through the ranks to land a position as chief of airport operations at Van Nuys Airport and before taking on my current role as airport manager.”

Both VNY and LAX are owned and operated by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) and play an integral role in helping to meet the Southern California regional demand for passenger, cargo and general aviation services. LAWA’s airport system serves a major portion of the Southern California market at no cost to tax payers. Located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley and dedicated to non-commercial air travel, VNY derives most of its revenue from rental/ lease and fuel delivery fees under a stand-alone budget.

Explaining how her responsibilities as VNY’s airport manager include overseeing all aspects of airport operations and administration, Margheritis underlines how her priorities are safety and security, as well balancing the needs of airport operators with those of the surrounding community.

Rich aviation heritage

“Today the airport is home to nearly 600 aircraft and over 100 businesses. It supports over 10,000 jobs and contributes nearly $2 billion each year to the Southern California economy,” she says. As the airport is this year celebrating its 90th anniversary, she adds: “It will continue its strong legacy of serving as a valuable resource to our community through building strong partnerships with local civic, service, educational and non-profit organisations.”

Describing the airport as a place where aviation’s early pioneers let their dreams take flight, Margheritis tells how the airport has evolved since its origins in 1928. In 1903, the Wright brothers made history, when their Wright Flyer took off in Southern California and became the first aircraft to achieve sustained, powered flight. Twenty-five years later, to the day, VNY was born as Metropolitan Airport through the corporation of a small group of citizens. It began as a privately-owned airfield surrounded by trees and farmland and was where pioneering aviators such as Amelia Earhart and Florence “Pancho” Barnes set record-breaking flights. Since those early days it has also served as a backdrop for Hollywood movies, a military base during and after World War II, a hub for aerospace manufacturing, a home to police, fire and air ambulance operations and it is now one of the world’s busiest general aviation airports.

In 2017 VNY had 231,323 total operations, of which approximately 22% were jet operations, 10% were helicopter operations and 68% were prop and turbo prop operations. To cater for the volume of air traffic, the airport has four FBOs – Castle & Cooke Aviation, Clay Lacy Aviation, Jet Aviation, and Signature Flight Support – which means general aviation passengers travelling through VNY can rely on high levels of service and satisfaction.

Boosting the local economy

In addition to catering for large volumes of inbound and outbound air traffic, the airport plays an integral role in local economic growth. Over the past two years, several major tenant development projects have included the completion of a $7.5 million, 3-acre complex at Aeroplex/ Aerolease Group and a $10 million, 6-acre expansion at Clay Lacy Aviation. Construction at the airport’s new Jet Aviation facility has recently commenced, with development at The Park VNY scheduled for completion at the end of this year.

The airport is also due to spend an estimated $64 million on airport capital improvement projects (ACIP) and non-ACIP projects through 2022 to meet the future aviation needs of Southern California. These include the reconstruction of two taxiways, upgrading the airport’s radio communication system and removal of underground storage tanks.

The numbers are impressive. Based on a 2016 economic impact report, on average for every $1 million spent on capital improvement projects at VNY there will be positive economic impacts of approximately $583,000 in labour income, close to $1.7 million in business revenue and a total of local state and federal taxes of  $202,700.

Challenges and collaborations

However, running one of the world’s busiest general aviation airports doesn’t come without its fair share of challenges. “I face the daily challenge of working collaboratively with stakeholder groups to implement policies and practices that are both responsive to business and responsible to the community,” says Margheritis.

She also divulges that the airport has a long history of working in partnership with its tenants to come up with solutions to some of the more difficult challenges it faces. “These include reducing the impacts of airport operations on the community; creating a business climate that facilitates job creation and economic growth; negotiating fair and reasonable leasing policies and practices; and working towards environmental sustainability.”

Concluding how every day presents its own challenge, Margheritis admits that responding to these challenges and having the opportunity to meet the needs of airport businesses, while being responsive to the local community is what fuels her ambition to succeed. “From the moment I first visited Van Nuys Airport at the age of 16, I knew I not only wanted to be a pilot – I wanted to be airport manager. Fortunately, both these dreams have come true. I am passionate about the excitement, freedom and opportunity that flight has to offer. I love working in an active airport environment and believe the people are what make VNY, and the industry as a whole, so special.”

 


Written by: Chloe Greenbank

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