Congressional delegation urge approval of loan guarantees

Friday, July 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation encouraged the U.S. Transportation Department to approve a loan guarantee application by an Oklahoma airline.

In a letter to Peter R. Fisher, undersecretary for domestic finance, U.S. Rep. John Sullivan strongly supported Great Plains Airlines' application for loan guarantees totaling $61.5 million.

Sen. Jim Inhofe and Reps. Wes Watkins, J.C. Watts and Frank Lucas, all R-Okla., and Democratic Rep. Brad Carson all signed the letter, according to a story from the Tulsa World's Washington bureau.

Great Plains applied under a federal program set up in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks to help the airline industry recover from losses linked to those attacks. Great Plains, launched in 2001, wants to use the money to purchase 10 new airplanes.

According to the letter, Great Plains was on a path toward profitability before the Sept. 11 attacks with plans to add eight planes to the two regional jets already in operation.

``Additionally, in early September, Great Plains was on the cusp of attracting $25 million in outside investment,'' the lawmakers wrote.

``Needless to say, this investment dried up after September 11, as did any loan possibilities for funding the aircraft purchases.''

Jack Knight, Great Plains' president and chief executive officer, confirmed that credit to airlines disappeared following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lawmakers conceded that Great Plains was in a unique position because it remains in its infancy.

``Though some may say that the federal government should not be called upon to finance the expansion of an airline, it was the intent of Congress that the federal loan guarantee program should apply to airlines regardless of whether they are big or small,'' they wrote.

The airline currently employs 127 people in Tulsa and runs a maintenance facility out of Tulsa International Airport. It provides service for Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, N.M., Nashville, Tenn., and Colorado Springs, Colo., with connections to Taos, N.M.