From clear blue comes Sky King; California charter airline eyes Millington airport as site for maintenance facility

A charter airline that flies dozens of sports teams and casino junket trips hopes to move its maintenance base to the Millington airfield as early as this year.

Sky King Inc., based in Sacramento, Calif., is making a presentation Tuesday to the Millington Airport Authority to lease the now mostly empty 50,000-square-foot barrel hangar built by the U.S. Navy in 1944.

"We're looking primarily for location. Roughly 90 percent of our flying is east of the Mississippi River, including that we probably fly 20 to 30 flights a week out of Tunica and Memphis," said Danny Looney, director of Sky King operations.

The airline has looked at sites in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas.

"Millington is the top of list," he said. "We would like to move as soon as possible."

Sky King, which flies the Grizzlies and the University of Memphis Tigers, was founded in 1990 by Gregg Lukenbill, former managing partner of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, as a more efficient way to handle team travel.

Today, it has a fleet of seven 737-200s and employs 125 people near Sacramento. Its clients include the who's who of NBA and NFL teams, plus a variety of corporations and entertainers.

It intends to relocate most of its 40-member maintenance crew to this region to be closer to its customers, saving it the expense of flying planes to California for maintenance.

If it can strike a deal here, it would move a portion of the maintenance department here this year, with the idea that the whole company might soon follow.

"California is a great place to live, but it's not that business friendly," Looney said. "Plus, we have the economics of living and working here when our business is 4,000 to 5,000 miles away."

This is the first major tug on the line for the Millington Regional Jetport, which began formally marketing itself a year ago after it hired Tracy Williams, executive director of the airport authority, to lead the charge.

"My plan would be to provide a long enough lease term to amortize any investment," Williams said.

"Sky King is going to find the airport authority is very interested in leasing out that building. They will find us easy to get along with."

Besides an 8,000-foot runway, the airfield has an air traffic control tower and a crash, fire and rescue team on the premises.

"We decided to call it a jetport based on the runway," said Jim Phillips, chairman of the airport authority. "It's long enough for any jet, and that's part of our marketing plan."

While most of the former 1,900-acre Navy air station is an industrial park governed by a local industrial development board, the airport, he said, has an agreement with the board that allows it to sublease land for aviation companies that want to expand.

Tulsa Air currently runs a fixed base operation at the airport, selling fuel and performing some maintenance.

-Jane Roberts: 529-2512

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"Sky King is going to find the airport authority is very interested in leasing out that building. They will find us easy to get along with."

Tracy Williams

executive director, Millington Airport Authority

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