Sunday, May 04, 2014

Odessa Airport-Schlemeyer Field (KODO), Odessa, Texas

Mike Hamilton owns the Odessa drilling rig manufacturing company Rig Tech, working with clients in throughout the country. And that means a lot of flying.

So for the about last seven years, Hamilton has traveled by private plane out Odessa-Schlemeyer Field. Because business requires about one flight a week, he says the private plane makes more economic sense than a commercial or charter flight out of Midland International Airport.

“Just take the one-hour check-in,” Hamilton said. “You can already be in Dallas-Fort Worth or El Paso or Houston in that time.”

More and more local businesspeople are opting to buy airplanes for work travel from Schlemeyer instead of turning to commercial or charter flights, said Mark Bell, the fixed-base operator at the airport.

Public records including registrations with the Federal Aviation Administration support that assertion.

It’s not just a sign of increasing individual wealth, Bell said. To be sure, there are more recreational flyers, but Bell said the traffic illustrates the increasing need for business travel and that private jets are an economical means of supplying it.

There are 186 planes based in Schlemeyer hangars — more than double the amount there were in 2005.

And the traffic continues to increase. In 2013, the airport saw a 10.7 percent increase in outbound traffic from the year before. 

That followed an 11.3 percent increase in 2012.

This is on top of the surge of inbound corporate jet traffic. The airport handles an average 51 takeoffs and landings on a weekday.

“Those men fly in here and they do business here,” Bell said. “It’s not ‘Oh gee, we are going to take our family to tour Odessa.’ No it’s business and a lot of money comes into Odessa here.”

County Commissioners approved a new $1.2 million terminal completed in 2012. Infrastructure plans for the coming months including lighting improvement, adding covered parking and a new landscaping design.

The idea, county commissioners say, is to draw business into Odessa from Midland.

About a year ago, Hamilton said he bought a Citation Bravo jet to fly in instead of the Cessna 421 twin-engine plane he had been using. The faster plane shaves up to an hour off a flight to Dallas, time that for the business owner, means money.

“If you’re making many flights, it pays to have your own plane,” Hamilton said.

Two factors Hamilton said play into to keeping his company plane at Schlemeyer were cost — MAF is more expansive – and availability of hangar space.

The pilot Hamilton contracts to fly the company jet, Jef HubbellCQ of Hubbs Aviation, said availability is the reason he is seeing “a lot of guys move their airplanes from Midland over here, because they can’t find hangars over there at international.”

Ray Spengler, who owns Skypark Aviation LLC, teaches pilot lessons and flies company planes for local owners. Business for him in recent years saw a “very large increase,” both in clients who want to learn to fly recreationally or commercially and in company officials calling on him to fly people and equipment.

“It’s either oilfield, 80 percent of them, or related,” Spengler said. “In a lot of ways we are all tied to the oil boom.”

But owning a plane often makes sense for a West Texas business that can afford it.

“The biggest thing is the economics,” Spengler said. “It’s cheaper in many many cases to have your own plane to fly people and equipment and things like that on the spur of the moment.”

A group is considering establishing a charter flight operation at the airport, said Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers, who serves as a liaison to the airport board. Childers and others would not name the group but said they would meet a growing demand.

“I hope that that happens,” Childers said. “We are just trying to make the atmosphere agreeable to private business. And it’ll take off.”

There is a tendency among plane owners to avoid the limelight, said Guy Andrews, director of economic development for the Odessa Chamber of Commerce.

“People with jets and private planes don’t necessarily like that to get out, because everyone is wanting them to take them some place,” Andrews joked.

But Jimmy Roark, the co-owner and president of Energy Sales, also agreed to discuss the company rationale in buying a B200 King Air turboprop in December. 

Roark’s company, which specializes in selling equipment such as wellheads and valves for oil companies, opened two new offices in Greeley, Colo. and Casper, Wyo. Employees travel often, and the private plane is simply cheaper.

“With chartering, the cost is just prohibitive. It’s outrageous the prices they charge,” Roark said. “And then from the commercial standpoint, our intellectual capital is so expensive and so hard to get and retain that you’ve got to find ways to be more productive with it.”

He offered an example of a recent five-city stop with a handful of employees. The private plane, he said, knocked 11 hours off airport time.

“Five guys, 11 hours wasted time of what they could have been doing for your organization,” Roark said. “That’s over 55 hours of time that’s just wasted in the airport.”

Roark’s company is based in Odessa, but he lives in Midland — so the jet lives at Midland International Airport.

“But if I lived in Odessa,” Roark said. “I’d be flying out of Schlemeyer.”

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