Police believe gangs are responsible for a graffiti attack on a $2.3-million Learjet in a secure area of Van Nuys Airport.
"This is a big deal to me, to have somebody who could get onto the airfield and who could do that kind of damage, that kind extensive graffiti to an aircraft, and not be seen," said Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon. "I'm not happy about it."
Gannon, who said the culprit went to "great lengths" to access the airfield, said meetings have already taken place to discuss strategies to prevent future incidents, including parking aircraft where they will be more visible to airport security officers.
The jet, which was vandalized with black spray paint spelling out "flame," "R.I.P." and an unidentified initial on the left front fuselage, was parked in an overflow area of the tarmac near Maguire Aviation in the 7100 block of Valjean Avenue at the time of the incident, said law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.
There were also several initials spray-painted on the tail of the aircraft.
The graffiti is believed to be "gang related and gang initiated," said LAPD spokesman Rudy Lopez, who did not elaborate on the particulars of the investigation, which is being conducted with Los Angeles Airport Police and the FBI.
The incident took place between 2 and 2:23 a.m. Sunday, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage to the Learjet Model 60 registered to an aviation company in Malibu, according to the sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Marshall McClain, president of the union that represents the officers who patrol L.A.'s airports, including Van Nuys, said the incident should be "a wake-up call" for airport managers.
"It is very disconcerting that airport management has yet to fully address issues like attrition and staffing," McClain said. "It's something that we have brought to their attention repeatedly over the last several years."
Gannon noted that there has been some attrition but said airport managers expressed a willingness to hire and will fill all vacancies with qualified officers. The chief noted that everyone -- including security and police officers, aircraft operators, private owners and residents -- has a role to play in being vigilant and reporting suspicious activity.
Van Nuys Airport is one of the nation's largest general aviation airports.