Friday, March 3, 2017
New Tulsa Airports CEO Mark VanLoh talks direct flights and development
By Casey Smith
Tulsa (OK) World
Mark VanLoh started as the new CEO of Tulsa Airports earlier this month. He has worked at several airports, including 12 years at Kansas City International.
An admirer of the aviation industry since childhood, Mark VanLoh has been living his dream for some time now.
Earlier this month he moved into its newest iteration when he became CEO of Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust, the body responsible for managing operations at Tulsa International Airport and Jones Riverside Airport.
Previously he spent 12 years leading Kansas City International Airport as director of the city’s aviation department, as well as time in Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois. Right after the U.S. Army and college, there was also a stint in New York and New Jersey working for famous air carrier PanAm, a job VanLoh said he exited “about a year before they went belly up.”
A number of things appealed to him about Tulsa Airports, VanLoh said, including members of the board of trustees’ commitment to airport operations. He and his wife love the Midwest and are excited about starting lives in Tulsa, he said, which they were first exposed to when she competed in the Williams Route 66 Marathon.
He also knew that under previous director Jeff Mulder, who resigned in October, the airport had switched from a city department to an autonomous authority.
“That is the premier organization to run a facility like this,” VanLoh said. “So many things change in this industry, you can’t deal with a lot of the bureaucracies the city has.”
Jeff Stava, chairman of the board for Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust, said the open CEO position drew many applicants, but they felt VanLoh was uniquely positioned in helping TIA make progress in key areas like economic development and increasing Tulsa’s number of direct flights.
“He’s high energy. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about airport business,” Stava said. “And coming from Kansas City and a few airports before that, Cleveland, he’s run large airports so he understands how to manage them. He has a relationship with the FAA. He has strong relationships with the air carriers.”
Board members have made their objectives very clear, VanLoh said, and he agrees with the strategy.
One piece is development of the acreage at Tulsa International that’s not already being used but, because it’s federal land, can’t be sold. The trust can get it ready to lease to local industry as an additional source of revenue.
“Some of these industries don’t necessarily have to be on an airport, but maybe they’re attracted to the location and the cheapness of the property,” VanLoh said. “You don’t have to go out and spend millions to buy property, you can lease a long-term piece of ground from the airport and build a warehouse for auto parts, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing. And you can make noise — it’s OK.”
Another priority is to make progress on a topic Tulsa International hears from travelers all the time — the need for more nonstop flights. Initial destinations on the wish list are New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, VanLoh said. They’d also like to bring in daily flights to the existing nonstop locations Los Angeles and the Washington, D.C., area.
Bringing in new routes takes more than just a desire for them, VanLoh said. Airports really have to know their stuff and make sure that if a flight were to come in, it would be supported. If an airline adds a route that ultimately fails, it’s very difficult to get them back.
“It takes the numbers,” VanLoh said. “Some of these airline route planners are right out of college. They probably have 30 cities they’re responsible for — they couldn’t pick Tulsa out on a map.
“We’ve got to be down there, we’ve got to invite them to up to go to a game, to go play golf, just get them to Tulsa to see this community. And then you’ve got to back it up. We’ve got to take numbers down showing we know where people travel.”
And he can continue his affection for the industry, which he noted began on Sunday afternoons during his formative years.
“We used to go to the airport after church on Sunday to eat because it was an awesome restaurant — everybody went to eat at the airport,” VanLoh said.
“My sister and I would run around the terminal and walk around and go right up to the gate and watch the airplane turn around and taxi out, things you can’t do today. And then it was a movie that my parents took my sister and I to called ‘Airport’ in the ‘70s. Burt Lancaster was the airport director, Dean Martin was a pilot. … It was chaos. And I went, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ And I’m doing it.”