American Airlines

Dignitaries take part in the announcement of a $550 million upgrade at the American Airlines base in Tulsa on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World

The largest private economic development investment in city history will help ensure the future of Tulsa’s American Airlines maintenance base and boost the area’s prosperity for a generation.

State and local political and business leaders joined American Airlines officials last week for the big announcement: a seven-year, $550 million rehabilitation of the maintenance facility at Tulsa International Airport.

A new 193,000-square-foot hangar will accommodate two wide-body aircraft or up to six narrow-body aircraft and will replace two existing hangars no longer able to deal with American’s fleet adequately. A new 132,000-square-foot base support building will include administrative offices for teams in aircraft overhaul, engineering and others.

Other money will be used for maintenance and improvements to the existing buildings, including new roofs, utility upgrades, new technology and ramp repairs.

This is a huge investment by American Airlines, but the importance of local and state incentives can’t be ignored. In 2016, Tulsa voters approved the $884 million Vision sales tax renewal package including a $27.3 million investment in city-owned facilities used by the airline.

More recently, Gov. Kevin Stitt used money from the state’s quick-action closing fund to finish off the deal.

Public investment in private enterprise is a controversial notion for sure, and it never should be done without close consideration of a number of issues, but it would be hard to argue at this point that Tulsa isn’t getting an awful lot in return for a relatively small infusion of public money.

The Tulsa maintenance facility has more than 5,500 workers, 600 of whom were added last year. The base conducts close to half of the overall maintenance work for the airline’s nearly 1,000 mainline aircraft. Friday’s financial commitment is the biggest made to a maintenance location since the airline’s inception.

While other airlines are taking their maintenance facilities overseas, American is moving toward Tulsa, a city it can trust to provide high-quality work at a good price.

Tulsa is fast becoming as second home to the world’s largest airlines. It’s a partnership that took a lot of hard work and money, but is well worth it.

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