Yesterday’s Vision Marks Tulsa Aviation Today
By CHARLES CANTRELL
PREMIER AVIATION: BizJet occupies a 350,000 square foot hangar, repair and office complex located at the northeast corner of Tulsa International Airport. In a little over 22 years the company has grown from vision to another grand chapter in Tulsa’s rich aviation tradition.
CHARLES CANTRELL for GTR Newspapers
Editor’s Note: This is the fourteenth article in a multi-part series about the growth of the aviation industry in greater Tulsa and throughout the region. The series explores the many unique contributions made by Tulsans to what has become a major aspect of the area economy. The editors of GTR Newspapers want to acknowledge and thank the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and the Tulsa Historic Society for research assistance and the use of many of the historic photos that accompany these articles.
Based on a historic examination of Tulsa’s aviation story, it can be argued there is a thread of continuity that continues today, one that speaks to the very nature of those who came here years ago looking for opportunity. Many possessed a kind of vision capable of recognizing possibilities on the blank canvas that was then the vastness of the prairie. Some would create farms and ranches; some would set down roots and begin building communities. Others would drill into the prairie and find oil and some would have the audacity to look beyond the empty landscape at the even greater vastness of the sky and be driven to build flying contraptions in the barns they would soon be flying over. Their unbridle vision drove the aspirations to fly higher, farther and faster. As goals were reached new ones were made and with every conquest there arose new challenges. This kind of vision guided Tulsa aviation to maturity and helped change the aviation landscape from a blank canvas to a montage of niche industries interwoven with the global aviation industry. The remaining articles in this series will focus on today’s aviation companies in Tulsa and how they keep alive the tradition of seeing challenge as nothing more than opportunity.
In 1986 one such company began inauspiciously in the corner of a privately owned hangar at Tulsa International Airport. A young man named Butch Walker, an aircraft mechanic licensed and certified to work on CJ610 and CF700 General Electric jet engines, began performing scheduled maintenance on the two types of corporate jet engines. Walker was aware of the many unhappy customers waiting too long for required engine maintenance and inspection provided by GE. The back up of frustrated customers opened the door for the company to outsource the services to Walker’s fledgling company. It was an opportunity to get a foot in the door and address a growing demand for mandatory scheduled maintenance on an aging fleet of jet engines powering corporate jet aircraft around the world. Walker teamed up with another Tulsa aviation enthusiast who provided investment capital named Roger Hardesty who, like Walker, saw the possibilities. They appropriately named the company BizJet.
Over the next few years BizJet built its image and customer base by providing high quality, quick turnaround service on jet engine maintenance. This created a favorable reputation and increased trust within the relatively small universe of corporate aircraft owners. Once the word got around, BizJet was able to springboard to maintenance on other aging corporate jet engine fleets like the Pratt & Whitney JT15D, Honeywell TFE731 and General Electric CF34. It helped the growing company to be located in a city that provided many experienced, well-trained, licensed and much sought after aircraft mechanics. Spartan School of Aviation and American Airlines Maintenance Center at Tulsa International Airport was particularly helpful in attracting, training and keeping good mechanics in the area. It also helped that Tulsa was conveniently located in the middle of the country, but it was the consistent delivery of quality service that primarily fueled the company’s growth. It might cost a little more to have BizJet work on an engine, but the overriding issue was getting the plane back in use quickly. Walker had turned BizJet’s toehold into a sizable niche in the corporate aircraft market, but he was just getting started.
Because BizJet positioned itself as a quality brand to a loyal customer base, it was able to venture into other areas of aircraft service and support. Avionics, Airframe inspection and repair, custom aircraft interiors and painting were added to the company’s repertoire. On any given day at the BizJet facility located at the northwest corner of Tulsa’s International Airport can be seen corporate and privately owned Citation, Falcon, Hawker, Sabre, Boeing Business Jet, Challenger, Learjet, JetStar, Gulfstream and other aircraft sitting on the tarmac outside any of the six massive BizJet hangars. They come here from around the world for a vast range of corporate aircraft needs at Tulsa’s premier single source aviation maintenance and service center.
So successful was BizJet in establishing itself as an international corporate aviation service and support facility that in 2000 German owned Lufthansa purchased the company. Subsequently engine maintenance on Rolls-Royce Spey MK511-8 and Tay MK611-8 jet engines powering high-end Gulfstream aircraft has been added to the BizJet mix.
Today BizJet’s 250 dedicated employees occupy a 350,000 square foot state-of-the-the-art aviation complex. In a little over 22 years, another Tulsa aviation company has taken root and grown up in the city’s fertile aviation tradition, one that continues to be driven by people with the same astute vision, determination and competency as those on whose shoulders they stand.
The next installment in the series will deal with other successful aviation support industries that grew out of Tulsa’s aviation industry over the years.