If the days of the family-owned and -operated FBO are a thing of the past, somebody forgot to tell Bill Christiansen and his sons, Bryan and Ken. On any given day, all three can be found hard at work at Christiansen Jet Center, a successful FBO at Richard L. Jones Airport (RVS), about eight miles south of downtown Tulsa.
It was not something Bill Christiansen set out to do. At an early age, he set his sights on a career as a pilot after his father took the family on a trip from their home in Newark, N.J., to Miami on an Eastern Airlines DC-8. “I got off the airplane and thought, ‘I’m going to be a pilot.’”
He earned his private license while still in high school and headed west to the University of Oklahoma. By the time he left the university with his business degree, he had also become a flight instructor and taught flying during his junior and senior years.
Following service in the Marine Corps, Christiansen returned to the Tulsa area and in 1972 launched a career in aviation with three rental airplanes–a Cessna 172 and 182 and a Bellanca Super Viking. “My dad was a New Jersey builder and loaned me the seed money to launch the business,” he recalled. “It was the money and his good name at the bank that got me started.”
Christiansen Aviation grew. He added the Christiansen Jet Center FBO in 1974, and a year later became a Cessna dealer and service center. With his two sons moving into the business, Christiansen relocated to the current facility in 2001. It seems a bit grand–larger by far than its neighboring small businesses scattered along the airport’s east side. But that wasn’t the elder Christiansen’s doing. What is now Christiansen Jet Center used to be Bristol Aviation, started by a Tulsa businessman. When it failed, Christiansen was asked if he wanted to buy the assets. “They really didn’t understand the business,” said Christiansen, “and they had kind of overbuilt.”
Christiansen left the flight school in place and moved the FBO assets to the new building. Today, including the flight school, the family businesses at Roberts Airport fill some 48,000 sq ft, and another 7,500 sq ft is leased. His tenants include owners of 50 aircraft, from a Hawker 700 to a Cherokee 140. Business aircraft operators house a number of airplanes at the jet center, including a Conquest, a Westwind, two CitationJets, a Meridian and a King Air 90.
Christiansen Jet Center is a full-service FBO, offering WSI weather, high-speed Internet connections, a dedicated “snooze room” and lounge, conference room and crew car. The normal hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, but there is also 24/7 on-call service.
Christiansen, 56, estimates that the FBO, with about a dozen employees, is host to approximately 150 transient aircraft a month. He said that number, as well as fuel sales, is growing steadily. Son Bryan, 30, who started full time in the business upon graduation from college in 1997, recalls that at the time the FBO was pumping about 25,000 gallons of jet fuel a month. Now, he said, “We’ll average 55,000 to 65,000 gallons a month.”
But fuel sales are only the second major source of revenue for the family business. The first is aircraft rental, but not just to the local pilot market. Christiansen leases a fleet of some 200 aircraft nationwide, primarily to flight schools and university flying programs. About 30 of the airplanes are light piston trainers. The others are piston twins. “It’s become the biggest source of income,” he admitted, adding that it accounts for about 30 percent of the company’s annual revenue. And he noted that with the airplanes scattered all over the country, “There’s always good weather somewhere, so the income remains pretty consistent.”
The leased fleet is in keeping with Christiansen’s belief that diversified income is a safety net in tough times. Christiansen Jet Center also operates a flying school with 15 aircraft and remains a Cessna dealership and service center.
Christiansen foresees continued growth for Christiansen Aviation and its diverse array of products and services.
“The city of Tulsa has been expanding south for some years now, and the majority of people who have the means and interest to buy or rent an airplane live in this area,” he explained. “This is making Roberts the airport of choice for a lot of people.”
Christiansen said that despite the growing number of business jets visiting and swelling the ranks of tenant aircraft, “We’re happy with the small general aviation airplanes as well.”
The most immediate goal for Christiansen Aviation is to expand the fleet of leased airplanes. There are also plans to expand hangar space by 23,000 sq ft. And with a natural customer among the leased aircraft clients, there are hopes of seeing the small-aircraft parts business grow, a turbine maintenance service and an increase in the sale of used aircraft abroad.