CLAREMORE — During his speech at the Claremore Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday, Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission Director Vic Bird pointed to the relative strength of Oklahoma’s economy despite current challenges in the energy industry.
One of the reasons for that strength is the state’s aerospace industry, which is responsible for 127,000 jobs and is one of Oklahoma’s top economic engines, Bird said.
“Aviation truly lifts us up in Oklahoma, and it’s one of the reasons that even though there’s the energy downturn Oklahoma is still doing OK,” Bird said.
Bird pointed to presence in the state of the world’s largest commercial aircraft repair facility, the American Airlines Engineering and Maintenance Base in Tulsa; and the world’s largest military aircraft facility, Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
He also highlighted several aerospace businesses in Tulsa such as NORDAM, Bizjet, Lufthansa Technik Component Services and Spirit Aerosystems.
But the focus of Bird’s speech was general aviation airports such as Claremore Regional Airport, where the luncheon took place inside one of the airport’s several new hangars.
General aviation airports are vital for businesses because they allow executives to travel more quickly and efficiently, Bird said.
An example is Baker Hughes, an oilfield service company and large area employer that uses the Claremore Regional Airport on a frequent basis, Bird said.
Bird detailed improvements at Claremore Regional that have made the level of service the airport provides possible, such as the 2002 extension of the runway to 5,200 feet that made it jet capable.
Other recent improvements include multiple new hangars as well as new and retrofitted lighting systems.
Bird, who has served as the director of the commission since 2002, urged the public to show their support for keeping the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission a separate body in state government. The commission was part of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation until 2002 when it became a separate entity.
During the most recent legislative session there was talk of collapsing the commission back into the state’s transportation department, Bird said.
He said that such a move would not be in the best interest of state airports.
As a separate entity, the commission gets its revenue from airport users through items like excise taxes and registration fees. Of the $60 million the commission has received since 2003, $50 million has been invested in Oklahoma’s airport infrastructure, he said.
When the commission was part of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and got its funding through appropriations, there was just enough funding to make payroll, he said.
“We didn’t have funding to accommodate our mission,” Bird said.