Signature Wanted San Jose for Years; Google Frosting on Cake

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By Sharon Simonson

Existing customer demand and historic, present and projected aviation trends are driving aircraft manager Signature Flight Support to invest $82 million at the San Jose airport, the company’s president and chief operating officer said.

“We knew from customer research that San Jose was an airport we needed to be serving,” said Maria Sastre. “Our customers fly there, and we weren’t there.”

San Jose has been on Signature’s list of top-five most desireable locations for some time, according to the company. Thus, Signature was deeply interested when the city issued a request for proposals last August offering 44 acres on the airport to companies that operate terminals to service corporate, private, charter and government aircraft. It was a rare opportunity when local economic-development desires and corporate goals combine, Sastre said.

When Blue City Holdings San Jose LLC, a company representing the personal aircraft of the principals at Google Inc., came along, it was all the better.

Mineta San Jose International Airport staff members said Feb. 7 that they intended to recommend to the City Council that the city enter a 50-year lease with Signature to build and operate a general aviation terminal and aircraft services business on 29 acres on the airport’s west side. Signature and Blue City Holdings San Jose have entered into an agreement simultaneous to Signature’s master lease term and agreed to internally finance the $82 million capital investment, according to public records. Signature guarantees the city a minimum $165 million in income over the 50-year lease term.

Signature promises a 17,000-square-foot “Executive Terminal,” including a proposed expansion of the San Jose Tech Museum; 240,000 square feet of aircraft hangar space in seven hangars; full aircraft service and maintenance; and 18.5 acres of ramp space where it can manage and service aircraft overnight for visitors.

“We think the footprint will be dramatically better than most [fixed-base operation’] footprints in California, and it also addresses the needs of longer-range aircraft,” Sastre said.

“We are building hangars in San Jose that are state-of-the-art for new, prototype private airplanes and wide-body aircraft in mind, for the new Gulf Streams, the [Dassault] Falcon 7Xs, the Boeing business jets and Airbus corporate aircraft,” she said.

The development should accelerate an already changing landscape on the airport’s west side, an industrial backwater where the city has jiggered land use and solicited private investment to stimulate a burgeoning turnaround. That includes a new soccer stadium, now under construction, a new shopping center and a proposed corporate office complex.

Signature is the largest business owned by London-based BBA Aviation plc, producing revenue of more than $1.3 billion in 2011 as expressed in U.S. dollars, the most current fiscal year for which BBA has issued an annual report. BBA also owns an aftermarket services firm that repairs and overhauls jet engines and manufactures and services aerospace subsystems and components. That business produced revenue of more than $806 million in 2011.

Signature has self-financed millions of dollars in new construction and on-airport improvements.

Signature intends to start the project as soon as it is able to sign a contract with the city and to satisfy building and other permitting requirements, Sastre said. Based on current timelines, she hopes to begin construction by the end of this year or start of next. The company needs 12 months to 18 months to finish. It plans no phasing. “We will work as fast as we can to build it out—no inhibitions or limitations,” Sastre said.

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Renderings courtesy of Signature

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