The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission (OAC) was formally created in 1963 by an act of the Oklahoma Legislature, succeeding the Oklahoma Aviation Commission. OAC was a separate and independent agency until 1976 when it became a division of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT). The agency regained its stand-alone status on July, 1, 2002, when it separated from ODOT.
OAC’s mission is to promote aviation, which includes ensuring that the needs of commerce and communities across the state are met by the state’s 110 public airports that comprise the Oklahoma Airport System, and ensuring the viability of the state’s aerospace industry.
Aviation has a rich legacy in Oklahoma that has resulted in it being one of the pillars of our economy today. The Sooner State has yielded more astronauts per capita than any other state, including Gordon Cooper and Tom Stafford. Two of the first commercial airlines, Braniff and Southwest Air Fast Express, were formed here. Those companies became part of American Airways which later became American Airlines. Wiley Post twice set the record for flying around the world and discovered the jet stream. Business aviation (business using non-commercial, general aviation aircraft for transportation) originated here with oilmen such as Frank Phillips, Earl Halliburton, and William “Bill” Skelly. Oklahoma’s strong military aviation presence can be traced all the way back to the early 1900s when the United States conducted experiments at Fort Sill to develop artillery fire from the air.
Douglas Aircraft built plants in Tulsa and Oklahoma City in support of World War II aviation needs. The plant in Oklahoma City became Tinker Air Force Base. With the exception of the retail industry, the aviation and aerospace industry is the largest employer in Oklahoma today. It provides 144,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs and a payroll of $5 billion. Total economic output for the industry is $12.5 billion, accounting for just over 10% of Oklahoma’s industry output.
The average salary of an employee in the aerospace industry is near $60,000; the salary of an average Oklahoman is approximately $37,000. There are more than 500 companies that comprise the aerospace industry in Oklahoma. The majority of those companies are engaged in the maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO) of aircraft. The American Airlines’ Tulsa Engineering and Maintenance Center is the largest commercial aircraft repair facility in the world.
Likewise, Tinker is the largest military aircraft repair facility in the world. It is also the state’s largest single-site employer, providing nearly 28,000 jobs. The FAA Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City, the nationwide, if not worldwide, nerve center for aviation training, safety and information, employs over 7,000 people. Oklahoma is recognized as one of the seven centers, or hubs, in the world for the MRO of aircraft.
Oklahoma has 110 public airports; 107 of those public airports are general aviation (GA) airports and 49 of those 110 are also Regional Business airports (RBs, 46 of which are GA airports). Currently, 43 of the RBs have jet-capable (5,000 feet or longer) runways. Three of the RBs are scheduled airline airports: Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport, Tulsa International Airport and Lawton-Ft. Sill Regional Airport. About 93% of Oklahoma’s population is within 25 miles of an airport with a jet-capable runway. The superior mobility and access afforded by our state’s air transportation system is a huge state asset and competitive advantage for Oklahoma.
OAC determines the airport projects that will be funded with state and federal funds through its capital planning and programming process and its Capital Improvement Program. The vast majority of funding for airport projects comes from the federal government through the FAA Airport Improvement Program. During the last several years, the OAC has programmed an average of $10 million in federal funds for airport projects in Oklahoma. This does not include the more than $12 million a year in federal funds (through individual $150,000 grants) that is going directly to the 100 Oklahoma GA airports that are in the federal airport system.
OAC does not receive general appropriation funds. Rather, it is funded through aviation-generated, statutorily directed revenues from aircraft excise tax, aircraft registration fees and aviation fuel taxes. In FY13, OAC received $6.1 million from these sources. Approximately 68 percent of OAC’s annual revenues are expended on airport infrastructure.
OAC was instrumental in the formation of the Governor’s Aerospace Task Force in 2003. The OAC Director also served as a member of the Governor’s EDGE Aerospace Committee. The Task Force’s charge was to examine the aerospace industry and make recommendations to assure its viability and foster its growth. OAC has either led or been instrumental in the implementation of these recommendations, most notably HB 1577 that eliminated sales tax on aircraft repairs and modifications and HB 2819 that created the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute and the Center for Aerospace Supplier Quality (“Defense” was added to CASQ in 2013) helps aerospace companies doing business in Oklahoma compete more effectively for the $5 billion worth of federal defense contracts outsourced annually by Tinker AFB and its prime contractors as well as other Department of Defense installations in the state. CADSQ was transferred to the Aeronautics Commission in November 2008. Since its inception, CADSQ has advised or assisted approximately 150 companies, which has resulted 345 new government contracts for 30 companies totaling $40.5 million.
The OAC assisted the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development in the preparation of the 2007 report on Oklahoma’s aerospace industry workforce. This critical report points out that much like the rest of the national aerospace industry, which enjoyed a $61 billion surplus in 2008, the Oklahoma aerospace industry is experiencing growth. But that growth and viability will not be sustainable unless the industry has the necessary workforce. In addition, the report states that the industry is facing some critical workforce shortages now and in the future insofar as this requirement, and makes several recommendations to address these shortages. The Governor’s Council has asked the OAC to lead the implementation of these recommendations.
During the 2008 legislative session, OAC led the way in passing HB 3239, the Aerospace Industry Engineer Workforce Bill, a landmark piece of legislation that, through state tax credits, incentivizes engineers of all experience levels to go to work for aerospace companies in Oklahoma and for aerospace companies to hire engineers in Oklahoma. At the end of the 2010 legislative session, state lawmakers placed those tax credits on a two-year moratorium to help balance the state budget. The tax credits were reinstated, however, during the 2011 legislative session.
Through the efforts of OAC, state lawmakers passed HB 2919, the Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Act, during the 2010 legislative session, a measure that regulates obstructions and land use near public-use airports around the state. This new law is designed to protect the lives of those who live and work on or near Oklahoma airports.
As we reflect on Oklahoma’s aviation legacy and look toward the future, the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission is committed to making sure that aviation and aerospace continue to lift Oklahoma up in the 21st century.