Sales of aviation and jet fuel at the Tahlequah Regional Business Airport fell about $23,500 shy of projections during the 2013-’14 fiscal year, and much of the drop is a result of corporations nixing their use of private jets.
Tahlequah Airport Manager Greg Blish also points to fuel costs for part of the drop.
“Probably half of that can be attributed to lower fuel prices,” Blish estimated Wednesday.
As of Feb. 25, jet fuel was going for $4.99 a gallon in Tahlequah; aviation fuel was also around the $5-per-gallon mark, Blish said.
But another trend that affects Tahlequah’s jet-capable regional airport is the decision by some corporations to eliminate or reduce their private fleets of aircraft.
“The one that was most consistent in Tahlequah was Schwan’s Food,” said Blish. “They were flying into Tahlequah to visit their pie factory in Stilwell, but corporate did away with their entire flight department, and they fly corporate now.”
Blish said Schwan’s was previously using at least two full-sized business jets. The loss of fuel sales to Schwan’s is similar in impact to the loss of sales to American Woodmark, which shuttered its Tahlequah facility several years ago, and officials there no longer have a reason to stop in at Tahlequah.
“American Woodmark was a regular,” said Blish “[Schwan’s and American Woodmark] both consumed quite a bit of fuel.”
In one three-week span in 2014, the airport was visited by jets from four different Fortune 500 companies.
“During the summer, during busy business seasons, I’ve had as many as eight [corporate jets] on the ramp at one time. Generally they are in for business and then gone,” said Blish. “They’ll service their aircraft with fuel; pilots will hang out here until their passengers get back.
“I think the cut [in private jet usage] was just an industry-wide trend the last year or so. I think it will pick up in the spring and summer; business seems to be on the upturn.”
Nearly 60 aircraft are based in Tahlequah.
It’s not uncommon to see a jet swoop into Tahlequah to deliver representatives of Kraft Foods, Hiland Dairy, Domino’s or other identifiable businesses with local ties. Blish estimates the airport welcomes corporate jets about twice a week.