Business jet industry remains steady at OKC's Wiley Post Airport

Published: Thursday, April 30, 2009 7:00 am

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - Despite the stormy economy, the business jet industry continues to fly at Wiley Post Airport.

"Our traffic count is basically the same as last year, which is incredible to me," said Tim Whitman, general aviation manager for Wiley Post Airport. "Things are definitely flying high."

The airport's primary runway was closed for a portion of this year due to construction.

"That actually tells me if we hadn't had the construction we might have had an increase," said Whitman. "We are very fortunate."

Wiley Post Airport, in northwest Oklahoma City, is the home base for nearly 400 aircraft, including single-engine planes and corporate jets. More than 80,000 flights were logged last year.

It's one of three airports owned and operated by the Oklahoma City Department of Airports. Wiley Post is designated as a reliever for Will Rogers World Airport.

"Our role is to support corporate business and general aviation," said Whitman. "We are here to support Will Rogers. But we have our own personality and niche market that works."

In the past five years more than $20 million has been invested in airport improvements. Money for the projects comes from the Oklahoma City Airport Trust, private development, and federal and state grants.

At the north end of the airport, construction is under way on a hangar that will include infrastructure support for runways and taxiways.

Mark Kranenburg, director of airports, said the airport trust recognized the need to provide more hangars, specifically for corporate customers.

But tough economic times have produced a bumpy ride for the aviation industry. Domestic and international business jet usage was down 30 percent in March and 30 percent for the first quarter of 2009, according to a report by UBS Securities analyst David Strauss.

"Demand has slowed somewhat due to the economy," said Kranenburg. "But we continue to develop that property out there to be ready when the demand comes back."

Whitman said Wiley Post Airport's high traffic count confirms the airport is still a vital economic engine for the community.

"We haven't noticed the effects of the slowdown of the economy like the East and West Coast," said Whitman. "I think the market is still strong for Oklahoma City for aviation."

Wiley Post also offers maintenance and refurbishment services.

Whitman said many people are choosing refurbishment and maintenance work on their aircraft rather than selling it to buy a new one.

While there is a misconception business jets are used only for the rich and famous, Whitman said for some companies it's a practical part of their business model.

"To be able to get in and out of places can affect their bottom line and productivity," he said. "It definitely serves as a business tool."

Whitman said the airport will chart growth, even if market conditions force operations to soften a bit.

Airport development is scheduled for completion in about a year.

"That will enhance our corporate and business partnerships," he said. "I think we will continue to be a big player in the economic development of Oklahoma City."

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