The past few years at Van Nuys Airport have seen an exodus of small airplane operators and double-digit declines in air traffic.

But the past few months have brought a miniboom, with three new tenants signing leases at Van Nuys as private-jet travel begins to take off.

It’s not only a signal that business people are starting to travel more as they recover from the recession, but also an indication that flight companies see opportunity for growth at Van Nuys.

“We feel good enough about the opportunity at Van Nuys to go ahead and make the plunge and commit to a hangar,” said Steve Lassetter, president of Sun Air Jets, a Camarillo company that is expanding into Van Nuys. “It is certainly the business airport for Southern California. Just being there is a big part of our growth.”

Along with Sun Air, which signed a lease at Van Nuys this month, new airport tenants include Chicago-based aircraft insurer Jet Support Services Inc., which leased office space this month, and NetJets, a Columbus, Ohio, fractional jet company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. NetJets said in September that it would lease a terminal building under construction at the airport.

Those leases indicate Van Nuys is continuing to transition from a home for mostly small propeller plans to a hub for business travel – something that airport owner Los Angeles World Airports, a department of the city, has been promoting.

“I think it’s the fruits of the last 18 months or so of business development by the airport,” said Curt Castagna, president of the Van Nuys Airport Association, which represents airport tenants. “We’re excited about the possibilities.”

Market shift

Van Nuys was once the nation’s busiest noncommercial airport, with more than 600,000 takeoffs and landings by private jets and small propeller planes.

Those numbers dove through the last decade; the airport is on pace this year to have fewer than 300,000 takeoffs and landings. That’s mostly because owners of propeller planes have either given up on flying or have moved to airports where tie-down rates are cheaper, said Ron Wood, president of the Valley Economic Alliance.

Private and business jet traffic grew through most of the last decade, then tanked during the recession. The airport reported that about one-third less jet fuel was delivered to the airport in 2009 than in 2007.

Last year and this year have seen some improvement. Last year, jet fuel deliveries were up 6.2 percent over 2009. Growth has been slower this year at 2.5 percent through September, but airport officials and aviation companies are upbeat.

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