Tulsa air carrier's plans left up in air

Monday, September 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Great Plains Airlines' plans to expand service to both coasts have been left up in the air by terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The Tulsa-based airline, which launched operations in April, had hoped to offer flights to the coasts by June. But the attacks Tuesday on the World Trade Center and Pentagon could hamper those plans, Great Plains chief executive Jim Swartz said.

``The coastal destinations are a question at the moment, based on what the government decides to do,'' Swartz said.

``There's a lot of speculation now that Reagan (International Airport in Washington, D.C.) will be under very, very tight control because of the proximity in flight pattern to places like the Pentagon, the War College, the White House and the FBI,'' said Jim East, top aide to Mayor Susan Savage.

Swartz said the economic fate of Great Plains is not dependent upon serving the coasts.

``As our plan exists, I don't believe that whether we actually serve Washington National determines the economic fate of the airlines because we have proven, at least to ourselves, that the hub-bypass strategy is a good one,'' Swartz said.

The city of Tulsa has a direct interest in Great Plains, having put up Air Force Plant No. 3 as collateral to help the airline secure a $15 million loan from the Bank of Oklahoma. The city's actual exposure is $2.5 million when $8 million in escrow and other factors are considered.

Both the Bank of Oklahoma and the airport review Great Plains' financial statements on a quarterly basis, East said.

``At the end of August, everything was A-OK,'' East said. ``So I think everybody is comfortable right now.''

East said it is still too early to tell what the long-term impact of the attacks will be.

``Are they (passengers) going to be less inclined to fly period? Are they going to be less inclined to fly to the coasts? Are they going to be more inclined to stay off the big planes? I don't know. I don't think anybody knows,'' he said.

The attacks come as the airline industry was experiencing a downturn because of the economy and higher fuel costs.

``For us, we are operating some of the most fuel-efficient airplanes in the world, and the airplane is right-sized for the markets,'' Swartz said.

Great Plains currently offers service from Tulsa to Albuquerque and Nashville. The airline also serves Oklahoma City.

Plans call for expanding service to other cities, Swartz said, but he declined to say which cities are under consideration.