By most accounts, Tulsa's main airport isn't flying high.
As noted this month by bonds rating agency Moody's, boardings at Tulsa International Airport have decreased for nearly five straight years.
It's also not cheap to fly out of Tulsa, at least when viewed per mile of travel. "Southwest has almost 40 percent of the Tulsa market, yet in terms of the cost of air travel, that airport is the sixth-highest in the nation," noted a report this year from consulting firm Boyd Group International.
Mayoral hopeful Bill Christiansen has more than 40 years of experience running an aviation business. But his ties to his aircraft leasing and flight instruction business may be too much for him to also be directly involved with board and commissions related to airport operations.
"I would be deferring to the city attorney as to whether I can appoint or sit on the board and take the seat on the board that the mayor has," Christiansen. He said getting a legal opinion would be "one of the first things I will do" if elected mayor. "I would abide by the legal opinion rendered by the city attorney," he said. He cited the city's ethics policy, adding that the "last thing" he wants is to have there be an appearance of a conflict of interest.
Christiansen Aviation is based at R.L. Jones Airport. The Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust and Tulsa Airport Authority oversee that airport as well as Tulsa's main passenger airport.
The former city councilor recused himself the last time he was in a position to vote on an appointment to the Tulsa Airport Authority. While mayors have made such appointments, they require the approval of the Tulsa City Council. Minutes from the council show Christiansen recused himself from a 2009 vote to approve Charles Sublett to the board.
Christiansen said that while serving on the city council, he asked the council administrator whether it would be appropriate for him to vote on such appointments. He served on the council from 2002 to 2011, and said that while he seemed to recall voting on such appointments, he wasn't sure.
"I think I did, but I did ask the council administrator whether it was appropriate for me to do so," Christiansen said.
The issue of Tulsa's air travel options didn't come up in either of the question-and-answer public forums attended by the three main mayoral candidates.
But Christiansen did hammer Mayor Dewey Bartlett about not attending various board and commission meetings. Bartlett has often allowed a designee to attend in his place.
Dan Patten, Bartlett's campaign manager, criticized the idea of Christiansen serving on the board if elected mayor.
"The mayor plays a critical role with the airport and the various authorities associated with it," Patten said. "Obviously, owning a business in that industry would be a conflict of interest."
Current City Attorney David O'Meilia did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did former mayor Kathy Taylor, the other major candidate heading into the June primary election.
For his part, Christiansen offered thoughts on the state of the airport. He said he is "real concerned" about fewer boardings in Tulsa, calling it an economic development issue. Companies considering a move to a community often study the flights into and out of a city, he noted.
"I think our enplanements are down because our airfares have changed for some reason, and now, because of cost concerns, people are flying out of Northwest Arkansas or Oklahoma City," he said.
Asked about the role the airport board has had in all this, Christiansen stopped short of criticizing the group of mostly citizen volunteers.
"I'm not going to say they're doing a good job, and I guess I really can't say they're doing a bad job, but based on ticket pricing and enplanements being down, something's out of whack," Christiansen said.
The airport boards have touted a new organizational structure as potentially reducing the cost to airlines flying out of Tulsa.
In the boards' "Assessment & Action Plan for 2013," the groups cite how having many employees transition from being city workers to being employed by the trust should result in savings in the cost of business services passed on to airlines.
"Our estimate is that the cost per enplaned passenger would see a decrease of .35 relative to their cost today. This translates into a savings of $455,000 on an annual basis for our airline tenants," the report states.
In Tulsa, the airport boards also deal with industrial tenants like American Airlines, which has a large maintenance hub at Tulsa International Airport.
Christiansen publicly opposed the Vision2 ballot measure last year, which asked voters to spend some sales tax dollars to improve publicly-owned industrial facilities used by employers, including American Airlines.
He said he would like to revisit the issue of airport improvements, though he said they must be weighed against other city needs.
"I do think it would be important to, after the American Airlines bankruptcy is all filtered out and U.S. Airways and American has merge and they're kind of back to normal, you might say, I think it is worthy of looking at and talking to kind of the new American Airlines, what we could possibly do to help them grow ... and bring more employees to Tulsa," Christiansen said, adding, "we can't do it at the expense of the basic needs of the city of Tulsa."
Neither Christiansen nor any of the candidates have so far talked much about ideas for improving air travel into and out of Tulsa, but that doesn't mean Christiansen is indifferent to topic.
"This is a very critical issue I would love to participate in with the knowledge I feel I have about airport operations. But I would first seek that legal opinion. I don't want there to even be an appearance of a conflict of interest," Christiansen said.
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