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More Oklahoma Companies Find Advantages To Owning Small, Private Aircraft

Bryan Christiansen, manager of the Jet Center at Christiansen Aviation, says saving time and fewer distractions are two big advantages to private plane ownership.
Rip Stell
The Journal Record
Bryan Christiansen, manager of the Jet Center at Christiansen Aviation, says saving time and fewer distractions are two big advantages to private plane ownership.

Oklahoma has long been a regional hub of aviation, with three U.S. Air Force bases, Boeing’s facility in the Oklahoma City metro, and the University of Oklahoma’s aviation program operating out of Max Westheimer Airport in Norman.

There’s an image of corporate jet owners as evil, Gordon Gekko-type CEOs flying around the country on a whim. But many small and medium-sized businesses are finding it makes sense to invest in aircraft.

QuikTrip Corp. manager of public and government affairs Mike Thornbrugh told The Journal Record's D. Ray Tuttle one advantage of owning a plane is the time saved traveled.

“Because we operate in so many communities and states, I cannot overemphasize how it is huge in time savings,” Thornbrugh said on Monday. “We have many employees going out to the divisions while other employees are coming in for training. It allows us to do a lot of things.” QuikTrip, a $10 billion privately held company that employs 17,000 people in more than 700 stores across 11 states, owns four jets that are based at Tulsa International Airport.

KCACAviation marketing director Kevin Farley says companies that own planes usually have a specific purpose in mind for their planes. It also makes sense for businesses with locations or offices spread out around the country, often in rural markets away from large cities.

Owning a plane allows executives to fly between markets such as Tulsa and Dallas, but also from Tulsa to Shreveport, Louisiana, or even Elk City, Kansas, a rural community 100 miles north of Tulsa. “You can avoid the congestion of security, but also, that flight to Shreveport is an hour in a private aircraft whereas it might be five or six hours flying commercial, once you make all the connections,” Farley said. Access is greater to general aviation airports, Farley said. “There are 6,000 general aviation airports across the country that can handle any size business aircraft, but only 400 to 500 commercial airports,” Farley said.

But owning a plane isn’t cheap, and can cost as much as $5,000 per hour to use and travel on the aircraft once all the operational costs are factored in. That’s about as much as a last-minute, first-class ticket could cost for a business traveler, which is why the trend of “fractional ownership” has taken off. It’s basically the same idea as having a time-share beach condo or using a service like Uber in the sky.

“Fractional ownership allows a company to have a share of the aircraft at a fraction of the price,” [J. Michael] McMillan [regional vice president of sales for Executive AirShare] said. “The operating expenses are also a fraction of what they would be if a company owned the whole plane.” A company that owns a plane has access to it 365 days a year, McMillan said. “Their costs are the same whether they use it five hours or 500 hours,” McMillan said. However, aircraft need maintenance and pilots have to train, so realistically, a plane is available 320 days a year, McMillan said. “One of our owners who has a one-eighth ownership has access to a plane 40 days a year,” McMillan said. “If the plane is in for maintenance, they never know it. The pilot is on vacation? They never know it.”


The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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