State senators sent Gov. Frank Keating legislation Tuesday to
grant Great Plains Airlines $ 9 million in tax credits to help it
"This will enable us to acquire four new airplanes immediately,"
said Steve Turnbo, spokesman for the Tulsa-based airline.
An airline needs at least six planes to be profitable, Turnbo
said. The bill will permit Great Plains to sell state income tax
credits for investments to obtain cash for buying the aircraft.
The company wants to expand its fleet of Fairchild Dornier 238 (sic)
jets from two to six. The jets carry 32 passengers each and fly
from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, N.M., Nashville, Tenn.,
and Colorado Springs, Colo.
Two years ago, the Legislature passed a similar bill granting
Great Plains $ 18 million in tax credits, which it sold for $ 15
million to start the airline.
The first flight was April 6, Turnbo said.
The measure, House Bill 2315 by Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee,
passed 37-9 but not without some debate.
"To me we're really getting off base taking taxpayer money and
giving it to individuals," Sen. Grover Campbell, R-Owasso, argued.
He said this kind of legislation is dangerous because others are
going to expect the same thing from the state.
Sen. Gene Stipe reminded senators that Congress provided
billions in subsidies to the large airlines after the Sept. 11
"If Congress subsidized the big ones, what's wrong subsidizing
the little ones?" Stipe, D-McAlester, asked.
Sen. Frank Shurden, D- Henryetta, said people in his district
didn't like the subsidization of the large airlines and won't like
this one, either.
Henry said the airline industry changed dramatically after Sept.
Great Plains Airlines was in the process of buying four new jets
when the terrorist attacks occurred Sept. 11 and funding
Oklahoma doesn't have any other airlines with direct flights
from Oklahoma City, Henry said.
"I see this as a pro-business piece of legislation," Henry said
on the Senate floor. "We recruited anyone and everyone to bring an
airline to Oklahoma."
Turnbo said the money obtained from selling the tax credits will
help Great Plains expand existing routes.
The airline also will begin looking for new routes, he said.
Among those cities it will examine for possible new routes are
San Antonio; New Orleans; Little Rock, Ark., and Omaha, Neb., he
Henry told senators the airline might be able to get air service
to Reagan National Airport in Washington.
David Johnson, general counsel for Great Plains, said the
original tax credits were sold and used to help buy Ozark Airline,
which had the two Fairchild Dornier 328 jets now being used by
John Cox, press secretary for Keating, could not say whether
Keating will sign the bill.
He said the governor's office will examine the measure as soon
as possible, but could not speculate on a timetable.