08:10 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 31, 2010

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
The Press-Enterprise

By today, management of San Bernardino International Airport was supposed to shift to AFCO/AvPorts, a Virginia-based operator of several other airports and terminals including one at Newark International.

In effect, it has — 23 employees who used to report to the San Bernardino International Airport Authority now work for San Bernardino Airport Management LLC instead and AvPorts employee Rick Lamport is the airport manager.

What hasn’t shifted is Scot Spencer’s management of nearly every entity controlling the airport and his role as a landlord for one of the airport’s largest hangars.

Spencer’s East Coast investor group that has been a backer of other ventures at the airport owns San Bernardino Airport Management LLC, or SBAM as airport officials call it. Spencer is a manager.

Spencer was banned from the air transportation industry in 2005 by an administrative law judge with the Department of Transportation for operating a charter airline service at the airport without a license. He appealed the ruling and a final decision has never been made.

The airport authority, governed by area elected officials from San Bernardino County and cities, doesn’t have a contract with AvPorts directly. It instead has a contract with SBAM which in turn has a contract with AvPorts. If AvPorts is no more, so is the contract SBAM has with the airport authority according to a clause in the contract which requires a nationally recognized firm to remain a manager of the airport.

AvPorts was hired in an effort to avoid repeats of mistakes such as one that involved a tenant dispute in Spencer’s hangar and other setbacks, making the airport attractive to commercial airlines.

AvPorts has the right to exercise options that would give it a 51 percent stake in SBAM, but it hasn’t exercised those options yet, Spencer said. The funds are in an escrow account, he said.

Spencer said that arrangement is what convinced AvPorts to manage the untested airport in the first place.

“San Bernardino is not there yet. When we talked to a lot of different airport management firms, basically every one, the level of activity at San Bernardino Airport didn’t warrant their attention at that point,” Spencer said.

With this arrangement, AvPorts will have an ownership interest in other entities at the airport including the Million Air terminal and Hangar 763 if they exercise their options to invest within two years from when the agreement went into effect.

“It’s a very attractive price for them to invest,” Spencer said.

Officials with AvPorts could not be reached for comment.

Supervisor Neil Derry, a member of the Inland Valley Development Agency board which has funded airport construction and operations, has been critical of development at the airport in the past.

“I’ve expressed my concerns about the operations at the airport and I’ve been very clear about that,” he said.

“If we’re going to move in this direction, we need professional management and we need to diversity the service operator.”

Mike Burrows, assistant director of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and the Inland Valley Development Agency, said he hadn’t heard any concerns about the level of Spencer’s involvement.

“Our main issue is making sure that SBAM is on the ground and has got the ability to do their jobs,” he said “It’s a big step with SBAM coming on board.”

Spencer also remains a manager of two of SBAM’s subsidiaries — Norton Property Management Services LLC, which is the new landlord for most of Hangar 763 (the prior leaseholder, SBD Aircraft Services, was also managed by Spencer), and SBD Airport Services, which controls the recently finished general aviation terminal Million Air San Bernardino.

Spencer has also been overseeing development of the main passenger terminal as manager of Norton Development LLC.

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