Tulsa Airport Seeks Plan to Aid Growing Firms

Oct. 28--Aerospace companies at Tulsa International Airport are outgrowing their industrial facilities, and officials say a comprehensive development plan is needed to ensure their wide-ranging needs can be met.

American Airlines is attracting third-party maintenance work to its Tulsa Maintenance & Engineering Center, and it needs additional hangar space.

Spirit AeroSystems Inc., which builds wing components for Boeing commercial aircraft and the military in 1.6 million square feet of manufacturing space, anticipates it could double its business within two years, executives say.

And AirWorks, a division of a Los Angeles-based security firm that modifies aircraft in an 80,000-square-foot hangar it opened last week on the west side of Tulsa International, already is looking for a larger facility.

"As I continue to expand my services, I'm going to continue to grow," said AirWorks President Ricky Frick. "The ability to utilize Tulsa for this project provides us with a springboard from which to develop additional opportunities in a rapidly expanding $12 billion market for aircraft modifications."

Although the anemic financial condition of the airlines is attracting headlines, the hum of activity at the airport indicates the aerospace industry as a whole is making a comeback from its post-Sept. 11 slide.

Expansion plans of the companies that employ 12,000 people at the airport, as well as those of the 200 Tulsa-area companies with which they do business, is creating a facilities gap.

Now, staff and trustees of the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust are proposing to attack the aircraft manufacturing, maintenance, repair and overhaul plant shortfall with a comprehensive plan.

Trustees are asking companies to submit -- by December -- qualifications to serve as a master developer for an 800-acre aerospace industrial park at Tulsa International. Airport staff will hold a briefing at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Room A211 of the passenger terminal for companies or individuals interested in submitting a response to TAIT's request for qualifications.

"TAIT feels that a third-party developer with the necessary background and experience, and given the appropriate information, would have a high likelihood of being successful," TAIT says in its request for qualifications on its Web site at www.tulsaairports.com [http://www.tulsaairports.com].

"There is both a short-term and a long-term need for aircraft hangar space, office space, warehouse and support facilities for existing and future aerospace companies in the Tulsa area. TAIT has approximately 250 acres of property that can be developed with taxiway access and 440 acres of property available adjacent to the airfield facilities. . . . This property is available for a developer to construct facilities to meet the needs of the aerospace tenants."

Carl Remus, deputy airport director of finance and administration, said the ideal master developer candidate would be someone with aerospace development and business incubator experience.

"We would lease them the land and let the developer handle everything else," Remus said.

Developing industrial parks for use by a particular industry or industry clusters isn't new.

In 1998, the city of Albuquerque, N.M., began construction of the Sandia Science and Technology Park. The idea was to attract high-tech businesses to build there, making it easier for them to partner with research and development institutions.

Another Oklahoma aerospace industrial park, this one for military aircraft, is on the drawing boards in Oklahoma City. Battelle Oklahoma, a subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute, proposes to construct the Oklahoma Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Technology Center on 370 acres east of Tinker Air Force Base.

Battelle Oklahoma is under contract with the Oklahoma Industrial Authority to develop, build and manage the technology center, said Battelle Vice President Chip Carter.

"The first phase, which we hope to start construction on in 2006, will be to build three hangars connected to Tinker by a tow way," Carter said, referring to a roadway on which aircraft are towed between the facilities. "Each hangar will accommodate wide-body aircraft."

In Tulsa, American Airlines also projects a need for an additional wide-body hangar, said Carmine Romano, American's vice president of base maintenance. American employs 8,000 people in Tulsa, including 6,000 aircraft mechanics.

"This time next year, I'll be out of space," Romano said. "We're doing more and more third-party work for Synergy Aerospace out of Bogota (Colombia). We've been meeting with the Tulsa Airport Authority about our short-term needs and long-term needs."

Under an agreement announced last spring, American is performing heavy maintenance checks and modifications of 29 Fokker F100 aircraft owned by Synergy Aerospace.

The deal, which American executives said is worth "tens of millions of dollars," is counter to trends in the airline industry, which is outsourcing heavy maintenance. American executives hope to turn their maintenance bases in Tulsa, Fort Worth and Kansas City, Mo., into profit centers.

Spirit AeroSystems Inc., a division of Onex Corp. of Toronto, is a subcontractor for Boeing Co., its former parent, and it also is courting third-party work at its Tulsa plant. The facility employs 1,100 people.

"In the future, it's very probable that we'll need more space," said Don Carlisle, general manager of the Tulsa division. "There's a lot of new activity in the industry and a need for more planes."


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