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VALLEY BUSINESS

Van Nuys Loses Customizing Work on Boeing's Business Jets

Aviation: Jet Center hangars are too small to accommodate the costly private planes, so they will be moved to Santa Barbara.

April 27, 1999|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — A lucrative business customizing the newest, biggest and most expensive private jets in the world will move from Van Nuys to Santa Barbara because hangars here aren't big enough.

The Jet Center at Van Nuys was selected by Boeing Co. as one of only five completion centers in the world recommended for outfitting the new jets, commonly called BBJs, which are corporate versions of the popular Boeing 737 commercial airliner.

But Jet Center officials say they will move the work to Santa Barbara Airport because the big jet's tail--41 feet high--is too tall to fit into the hangar at the Jet Center, or any other hangar at Van Nuys.

"There are not too many [general aviation] hangars in the country that can accommodate that size airplane," said Perri Coyne, management marketing director for Garrett Aviation Services of Phoenix, which operates the Jet Center.

Garrett has contracts to outfit five BBJs with galleys, seats, carpeting and other interior furnishings. But only two will be completed here.

Jet Center officials say that since they have recently leased a 130,000-square-foot hangar in Santa Barbara, no consideration was given to building a larger facility in Van Nuys.

But even if they wanted to, they couldn't: The Los Angeles City Council in 1993 imposed a ban on any construction at the city-owned airport until adoption of a master plan, in part because of complaints from nearby homeowners concerned about noise.

Ironically, the BBJs are among the new generation of quieter jets. One of three BBJs that initially arrived at Van Nuys has already been transferred to Santa Barbara. When the work here on two others is completed in six months or so, the Jet Center will revert to refurbishing older--and often noisier--Gulfstream and other jets.

"We want to be able to continue to service our Gulfstream customers, who have been very loyal to Van Nuys," Coyne said. "Having that particular project, the Boeing Business Jet, initially starting in Van Nuys is a wonderful opportunity to grow the business," she added. "Moving the BBJ to Santa Barbara allows us to continue to focus the Jet Center on the Gulfstream market."

Coyne said Van Nuys was always seen as a temporary location for the work, and that the decision to relocate to Santa Barbara was based on "a capacity issue, considering the size of the hangar and the size of the aircraft."

While Garrett officials declined to discuss the economic ramifications of the BBJ completion projects, company officials told the trade publication Aviation International News that they expect to complete "six to eight airplanes a year."

The cost of finishing each "green" airplane--so-called because of the color of the coating used to protect the unpainted aluminum shell--was estimated at $10 million or more by the publication. That cost in part is attributed to the high quality of the amenities and the need to build seats, couches and other furnishings to federal crash standards.

Although Garrett declined a request for access to the work area, passersby can see the tail of one BBJ sticking out of the Jet Center hangar at Van Nuys. The other, owned by a Portland-based real estate enterprise, is relegated to a tarmac.

In contrast, a massive hangar at Santa Barbara is the size of more than two football fields. That hangar, currently being refurbished, "is one of the biggest in California," said Terri Gibson, community relations director for the municipal airport.

Other Boeing-endorsed completion centers are in Dallas and Waco, Texas, Switzerland and Germany. Jet buyers, however, are free to utilize any completion center of their choosing, said Boeing spokesman Fred L. Kelley.

Kelley said that although he does not know how many aircraft completion centers there are in the world, most have a backup of orders.

"There is not enough capacity right now to do all the airplanes in the world in the business jet market," Kelley said.

Sales of the big jet are more than triple the initial projections--46 as of last October, even before the first left the assembly line in November, Kelley said. A joint venture of Boeing and General Electric, the plane sells without auxiliary fuel tanks and just an empty interior for $33.75 million. That sticker price is only slightly more than its global-range bizjet competitors, which have about a third of the 807 square feet of floor space in the BBJ passenger compartment, Kelley said.

The jet is most popular among buyers seeking roominess for long flights, which can extend to 12 hours or more nonstop. Promotional literature touts the ability to equip the plane with a full conference and meeting room, a real bedroom, full bath and kitchen. The plane can be used as a mobile headquarters in remote locations.

"People now want to be able to work as they travel," Kelley said, "so their team goes along with them. They can't do that if they are stuck in a seat."

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