The Van Nuys Airport Association (VNAA), founded in 1982 by Clay Lacy (founder of Clay Lacy Air) and Milton Widelitz (founder of Aerolease), is a nonprofit organization representing both aviation and non-aviation tenants at Van Nuys Airport. Its mission is to establish a collaborative working relationship between the more than 100 businesses and 5,800 employees who call Van Nuys Airport home.
Despite the fact that some of these airport tenants compete with each other for business, they are united by a common landlord – the City of Los Angeles. Presenting a united front is critical when it comes to negotiating issues of land use, rent, projects at the airport, or services that might be needed. Curt Castagna, CEO of Aerolease and current President of the VNAA, has been training for this role his whole life. He took the helm five years ago and has continued the legacy of his mentor, founder Milton Widelitz.
Its mission is to establish a collaborative working relationship between the more than 100 businesses and 5,800 employees who call Van Nuys Airport home.
Aviation runs in Castagna’s family. His father flew C-47s in WWII; his brother-in-law worked as a flight instructor then flew B-52s before leaving the military to become a captain with United Airlines. Castagna began working at Long Beach Airport at 14, taking flying lessons at 15, and earned both his flying and driver’s license at the same time. He flies for recreation to this day, but ultimately decided his professional interest lay in management. He began working for Aerolease, and in 20 years’ time, he graduated through the ranks to eventually take the helm from Widelitz upon his retirement.
Castagna’s role with the VNAA is a natural extension of that role: Aerolease itself has well over 100 tenants and three facilities. Collaboration and working together is at the heart of their success, and a big part of that includes their ongoing relationship working with the City.
The board of directors of VNAA make a concerted effort to include a diverse cross-section of all the major tenants at Van Nuys, including non-aeronautical tenants – for instance, the owner of the nearby Home Depot, which is located on airport property but leased for non-aeronautical use. Additionally there are some board members from similar associations that partner with VNAA, such as the Valley Industry Commerce Association, the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Alliance of the Valley. Even the aircraft mechanic school, which is run by the LA Unified School District, is represented.
As a master tenant with 30 acres of facilities, Aerolease has a significant presence at Van Nuys, and historically has been very involved in VNAA. In his time as president, Castagna has taken the lead on several major issues, negotiating an updated contract with U.S. Customs in 2015 to allow service at Van Nuys Airport for returning business flights, and organizing the complete remodel of the main runway at Van Nuys in such a way that what had initially been proposed to be a 17-week airport closure was executed in phases such that it was reduced to a 10-day closure. Such massive undertakings would not have been possible without Castagna’s commitment to collaborating with the City, the engineers, and all the VNAA tenants.
So next time you take a spin through Van Nuys Airport, you can appreciate how much care and collaboration the VNAA has invested to preserve the vitality of Van Nuys Airport and the surrounding valley economy.