Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission Director Vic Bird will serve as guest speaker during the Claremore Chamber of Commerce Luncheon and Airport Open House this Thursday. The luncheon is set to begin at 11:45 a.m. inside the FBO hangar at Claremore Regional Airport.
Bird, who has been OAC’s director since December 2002, will give a 20- to 30-minute update on Oklahoma’s aviation and aerospace industry, which will include a brief update on infrastructure projects at Claremore Regional Airport.
“I am truly looking forward to visiting with the fine folks there in Claremore about the importance of their local airport, especially when it involves businesses throughout the area that rely on a modern, safe and reliable airport that will help those businesses grow and continue providing jobs within the community,” Bird said.
Bird, who grew up in nearby Tulsa and graduated from the University of Tulsa and later its law school, noted that local and area companies such as Google, Wal-Mart, GAP Roofing, RCB Bank and the city’s largest employer, Baker-Hughes, regularly use the airport to transact business, which helps them be more efficient and thus improve their bottom line.
Bird explained that the Commission is funded directly from users of the state’s airport system, i.e., pilots and aircraft owners, mostly through aircraft excise taxes. Since fiscal year 2003, the first full year the Commission began receiving those statutorily directed funds, $50 million of the $60 million collected has been invested in airport infrastructure around the state — an 83 percent return on investment. The Commission has also leveraged that money into $133 million in federal funds for state aviation use, Bird said.
“Oklahoma’s 107 general aviation airports continue to benefit from this funding stream,” Bird said. “In fact, Claremore has seen about $3.5 million in state and federal funds directed to its airport since 2002 for various improvements, with an additional $4.7 million planned over the next few years for some lighting upgrades and pavement maintenance. That would not have been possible without our ability to direct those funds to airport projects across the state.”
Over the last several years, Bird said the Aeronautics Commission has recommended several bills in the state Legislature that have benefited the flying public and airports around the state, including the Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Act (APPPA) in 2010 and the Wind Tower Marking Act in 2014. APPPA limits what can and cannot be built near a public airport, while the Wind Tower Marking Act requires wind evaluation towers under 200 feet in height to be properly marked so that pilots in low-flying aircraft, such as ag sprayers, can see them more readily in daylight hours.
Bird said the state can also boast about its aerospace and defense industry, which is recognized as one of the top economic engines in the state and is responsible for nearly 120,000 direct and indirect jobs and $27 billion in sales annually. Not only is Oklahoma home to the world’s largest commercial aircraft repair facility — the American Airlines Engineering and Maintenance Base in Tulsa — but also the world’s largest military aircraft repair facility, Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, which is also the state’s largest single-site employer with 26,000 employees.
“We can certainly be proud of our state’s aviation heritage and the support it receives from Governor Fallin, our congressional delegation and state legislators such as Claremore State Sen. Marty Quinn and Rep. Mark Lepak. With that kind of support, there is only one way for Oklahoma’s aviation and aerospace industry to go, and that is up,” Bird said.