Japan Airlines, a major tenant at the Napa County airport, will cease operations here at the end of August.
JAL was responsible for half of all aircraft flights and 15 percent of airport revenue, so the airline’s departure will be “pretty significant,” airport manager Martin Pehl said.
JAL’S Napa Flight Crew Training Center was operated by the International Air Service Company, whose 110 employees face an uncertain future.
“We’re planning on staff reductions,” Mark Thonen, IASCO’s general manager, said. Just how deep these cuts will be isn’t yet known. “It depends on what new customers we bring in,” he said.
JAL’s parent company, JALUX, and IASCO are working to keep the center open, Thonen said. “We are actively pursuing new business.”
JAL has been training student pilots on small planes at the Napa airport since 1971. More than 2,500 pilots have been trained at the Napa facility, which includes classrooms, a maintenance hangar, flight simulators and 36 single and twin-engine aircraft. After training in Napa, JAL students return to Japan to train on larger jets.
The airline’s departure comes six months after JAL declared bankruptcy. Earlier this month the company announced that it was suspending nearly all flight training in the U.S. and in Japan while it makes plans to shrink its flight network.
In 2005, Napa County and Japan Airlines finalized a $5 million deal allowing the airline to continue training its pilots at the IASCO facility for as long as 20 years.
“JALUX still holds a lease at the airport,” Pehl said. “We are hopeful they will be able to attract some new business for commercial flight training ... It’s a little soon to throw in the towel.”
JAL is IASCO’s only client at the airport, Thonen said. The firm also operates other training centers, including one in Redding, he said.
When the airline declared bankruptcy in January, Pehl said he had already noticed a reduction in JAL operations. The IASCO center trained 125 pilots last year, Thonen said. Today there are only 40 trainees.
The JAL corporate office referred calls about the closure to Thonen.
“We hate to see JAL leave. They have been a great tenant for many years,” said Todd Walker, chairman of the Airport Advisory Commission. Walker is hopeful that IASCO will find a new tenant, possibly an existing client from another airport.
“We may not see much difference if they get a new group of students to train. That would be our hope,” Walker said.
“A new tenant could bring other changes to the airport,” Walker said. “They may not need as much space. It could lead to new opportunities. There’s always a bright side.”
“I’m really sorry to see this happening,” said Jim Ford, a pilot who was the chairman of Napa airport advisory commission for 20 years.
“They were just an amazing asset to the entire community,” Ford said of JAL’s student pilots. Many lived in a condo complex that JAL owns on Old Soscol Avenue across from Nob Hill Foods.
During the 1980s there were up to 250 pilots in Napa, he said. “Over time, the students that graduated in the ’70s would came back as the instructors.”
JAL was also generous with their facility and equipment, Ford said. “They built this unbelievable simulator addition out there.”