Future viability of American Airlines's Tulsa base could be affected by Vision2 vote, company official says
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
10/16/12 at 1:37 PM
Learn more about the $748.8 million, 13-year plan to extend Tulsa County’s 0.6 percent Vision 2025 sales tax.
A spokeswoman for American Airlines said Tulsa's Vision2 package won't have a huge impact on the airline's immediate personnel decisions, but will help ensure the long-term viability of the company's local presence.
As least $212 million of the $748.8 million package is aimed at buildings, infrastructure and equipment for the bankrupt airline, which is Tulsa's largest employer.
While leaders of the Vision2 campaign have said the original impetus for the effort was saving the airline's Tulsa maintenance facility, the largest civilian air depot in the world, and that details of the package were worked out over months of negotiations with the airline, skeptics have demanded evidence that the plan will make a difference in the company's choices.
"In short-term planning it will not have a huge impact," said American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely in an email response to Tulsa World questions. "However, we view these type of investments with a long-term approach."
Key elements of the proposed package are designed to make the Tulsa maintenance facility relevant to the airline's changing air fleet - retrofitting hangars so they can accommodate new planes with higher tail fins and building a new engine test cell that can handle larger, more powerful jets.
"Vision2 will help ensure that our facilities are ready for future projects," Huguely said. "We also need certain upgrades to help support our future aircraft fleets."
During negotiations with American Airlines, Tulsa Metro Chamber President and CEO Mike Neal has said that airlines officials made it clear that either Tulsa's maintenance facility or its Fort Worth facility would be closed because of the company's financial troubles.
In September, American announced it would close the Fort Worth depot, but Tulsa officials have said that decision could be reversed if Tulsa voters don't come through with the Vision2 package.
Huguely's statement wasn't specific on that point, but seemed to back up those statements.
"There are projects that could go elsewhere if our outdated assets or facilities do not get a much needed update," she said.
"These type of investments need to be made now to help secure future project opportunities for our Tulsa base."
Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, a member of the Citizens for a Better Vision steering committee and an unsuccessful candidate for the state Legislature earlier this year, said the American Airlines statement leaves several important questions unanswered for voters considering the Vision2 proposal.
"Is (American Airlines) willing to sign a contract guaranteeing that there will be no job losses until 2029, if Vision2, Prop 1 passes? If they are not willing to sign a contract are they willing to pay back to the citizens of Tulsa County the monies spent on upgrading the facilities? During the last fiscal year how much money was paid out in executive company bonuses? And, isn't it in their lease that (American) is responsible for maintenance, upgrades and repairs in exchange for the below market value they pay in rent?" Vuillemont-Smith said in an email to the Tulsa World.
Leaders of the Vision2 campaign have said the process was originally spurred by anxieties about the future of the American facility in Tulsa.
"As stated before, the upgrades in Proposition 1 are designed to make the Tulsa facility irreplaceable to the airline's future," Vision2 Cochairman Don Walker said Monday. "We are fortunate the Tulsa base remains a key asset to the company during its restructuring process, particularly after the first round of tough decisions made by the company resulting in the closure of the Alliance base at Fort Worth.
"The Vision2 package ensures the Tulsa facility remains a competitive asset, thereby keeping vital, high-paying aerospace and manufacturing jobs here," Walker said.
Election date: Nov. 6
Amount: $748.8 million
Tax impact: Extension of 0.6 percent Vision 2025 sales tax from 2017 through 2029
PROPOSITION 1: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Airport industrial complex buildings and infrastructure: $122 million
Airport industrial complex equipment: $132 million
Closing fund: $52.942 million
Bond costs and interest: $79.938 million
PROPOSITION 2: QUALITY-OF-LIFE IMPROVEMENTS
Tulsa County: $92 million
Tulsa: $157.92 million
Bixby: $11.3 million
Broken Arrow: $44.1 million
Collinsville: $3 million
Glenpool: $5.9 million
Jenks: $9.2 million
Owasso: $14.38 million
Sand Springs: $10.1 million
Skiatook: $1.16 million
Bond costs and interest: $12 million
Original Print Headline: Stakes high for AA base
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
An American Airlines MD80 is parked in a hangar that would be remodeled for work on 737s at the American Airlines Maintenance and Engineering Center. The facility stands to benefit from Vision2 if it is approved by voters. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Engine work is performed at the American Airlines Maintenance and Engineering Center. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World file