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Lawsuit brings sublease arrangement at Chino Airport to light

San Bernardino County officials are trying to find out if a pact between two aviation companies violates county regulations.

San Bernardino County is investigating whether a fixed-base operator at Chino Airport entered  into a sublease agreement with another aviation company that may violate county regulations regarding subleases at the airport.

Flying Tigers Aviation leases some of its hangar space at the county-owned airport to M.I. Air, a flight school that buys fuel from Flying Tigers, according to a lawsuit filed in March in San Bernardino County Superior Court.

That lawsuit was filed by Flying Tigers and several other airport tenants in opposition to the Planes of Fame Air Show, an annual event that attracts thousands of spectators and is one of the most popular air shows in the western United States.

The plaintiffs sought to shut down the show because it disrupts their business before and after the two-day extravaganza.

For about nine days every year, Planes of Fame “severely restricts or halts altogether all airport lessees, including Flying Tigers, from using the common areas of the airport,” the lawsuit asserted.

Michael Thayer, owner of Flying Tigers and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the air show – which was held in May, as planned – severely restricts his business and becomes “more burdensome” every year, as its attendance seems to increase annually.

In the lawsuit, Thayer mentioned that M.I Air is one of the companies unable to operate during the air show, including using fuel from Flying Tigers.

County regulations restrict subleases at Chino Airport, including prohibiting the lessor from making a profit from such an arrangement, said Mark DiLullo, Threshold Aviation’s s owner and chief executive officer.

“Chino Airport is supposed to be a full-service airport,” said DiLullo, whose company buys and restores private jets. “It’s fine to sublease if the county approves it, but you’re supposed to have hangar space available for transient tenants.

“If someone says they want their plane indoors for four or five days, or they want it tied down, you’re supposed to be able to provide that. That’s what being a full-service airport is all about.”

San Bernardino County officials first heard of the sublease arrangement between Flying Tigers and M.I. Air after the Planes of Fame lawsuit was filed, said David Wert, county spokesman, in a statement.

Technically, the county hasn’t confirmed the existence of the sublease. County officials were aware of a relationship between M.I. Air and Flying Tigers prior to March, “but didn’t know what kind of a relationship it was,” Wert said in a statement he released Wednesday.

“The first time the county became aware that there might be a sublease involved [was] sometime after the [lawsuit] was filed in March,” Wert said in the statement. The county has asked Flying Tigers about the arrangement and is awaiting a response.

“We don’t know what the possible terms of the sublease might be.”

Wert did not speculate on what action the county might take, if any, if it’s determined that the Flying Tigers – M.I. Air sublease arrangement violates county regulations.

Ironically, should Flying Tigers’ sublease violate county regulations, the company will have been found out because it tried to stop one of the county’s more popular events, one that attracts patrons from all over the world, DiLullo pointed out.

Thayer could not be reached for comment.

Threshold Aviation backed Planes of Fame in the legal battle. It declined to become a plaintiff and threw its full support behind the air show, which is a public relations vehicle for the airport and the major fundraiser for Chino Airport’s Planes of Fame Air Museum.

“We were definitely on the other side in that battle,” DiLullo said. “The air show is a big thing for Chino Airport. It’s probably one of the biggest air shows in the world. It reminds people of our veterans and of U.S. history. To me, that’s it’s main value.”

Air show officials have long encouraged the airport’s tenants to help out with the air show.

“We provide about 5,000 gallons of fuel during that weekend,” DiLullo said. “It’s sold at discount, so we don’t make that much, but we’ve been doing that for about 10 years. Everyone here gets involved in the air show.”

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