Tulsa Airport Officials Pondering Land Deal to Make Third Runway Possible

Dec. 30--More than 30 years ago, Milton O. Carlin bought a 70.8-acre tract of land on the south side of 46th Street North between Mingo Road and U.S. 169.

A private pilot, Carlin had flown one day over the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and then west over a freeway cloverleaf that became part of the Mingo Valley Expressway.

"I put two and two together and concluded they were going to put a road into the port from the east," Carlin said. "I bought the property to own the land on which they would build the road."

The road turned out to be less important than Carlin thought it would be. But his land still may prove to be valuable.

Officials at Tulsa International Airport soon will consider purchasing the property.

The airport's 1990 Master Plan targeted Carlin's land as needed for construction of a third, parallel, north-south runway east of Mingo Road and west of U.S. 169.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the aerospace industry was prosperous and aircraft operations at Tulsa International Airport were growing.

By 1992, aircraft operations -- a landing or takeoff by a commercial, air taxi, civilian or military aircraft -- had topped 192,000 operations annually, or 60 percent of the airport's capacity of 320,000 aircraft operations, in three of the previous five years.

Federal Aviation Administration guidelines required airport officials to begin planning for additional runways when aircraft operations reached 60 percent of capacity. So the airport staff and consultants began looking at construction of a 9,000-foot, $120 million third parallel runway east of Mingo Road and south of 46th Street North.

But after preliminary planning and a series of public informational meetings, the airline industry slipped into a recession, aircraft operations dropped below 190,000 a year and the third parallel runway project was shelved.

Carlin held onto his 70.8 acres, but now he wants to sell it.

"I'm 65 years old and I decided I don't want to sit on that property any longer," Carlin said.

Through a Realtor, Carlin has offered to sell the property to the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust for $199,900, or $2,823 an acre.

"It's a pretty good price," said Jeff Hough, deputy airport director of facilities and engineering. "It looks like we have a really good opportunity."

Bob Parmele, president of Tulsa-based Cinnabar Service Co., which appraises land for highway and other public projects, agrees.

"That's cheap," Parmele said. "That's a pretty good price."

Hough said the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust owns 1,309 acres east of Mingo Road, south of 51st Street North and north of the Burlington Northern Railroad.

"For a 9,000-foot runway, we need to buy 85 acres, which includes the 70 acres owned by Mr. Carlin," Hough said. "The 70 acres is the only piece we really have to have to construct the runway."

Hough consulted with the FAA, which advised him the land is eligible for FAA grant funding.

The runway project still is on hold because aircraft operations, which totaled 166,608 in 2004, have not recovered to the level of the late 1980s, airport officials said.

Someday, however, aircraft operations will increase and the third runway will be needed, officials say.

Hough and the airport staff placed the land purchase on the Dec. 8 airport board agenda.

Trustee Carl Clay asked that the item be deferred until it could be discussed in executive session.

Advised by airport attorney Nancy McNair that the land purchase couldn't be discussed in executive session because it wasn't on the agenda, Clay motioned to defer the Carlin land purchase until the January board meeting. His motion was seconded by Trustee Ron Turner, and the board voted unanimously to defer it, with Mayor Bill LaFortune abstaining.

"I don't see any reason to buy land we may or may not use," Clay said in a telephone interview earlier this week. "I don't care if the land is in South Joplin and it's reasonably priced, if we don't need it."

Carlin is waiting.

"I'm ready to sell the property," he said. "I haven't been approached by anybody else, but I might entertain an approach if it happened."