Soaring in the shadow of cloud-piercing Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, a student pilot can look past the western horizon for the origins of his Cessna T182RG trainer, a rare bird for the people of East Africa learning to fly.
That Cessna trainer along with a C152, had new avionics and a refurbished interior installed near the rolling hills of Tulsa by Christiansen Jet Center – before the fixed base operator disassembled, crated and shipped the aircraft to Nairobi's MOI University, which has launched one of East Africa's only flight schools.
For Bill Christiansen, owner of Christiansen Aviation, it is poetic that a Tulsa facility, which has taught hundreds of pilots over the years, is now touching the lives of students thousands of miles away. Based at Jones/Riverside Airport (RVS), Christiansen has exported planes, and his love of aviation, as far away as Mongolia.
"Our aircraft are on lease to flight schools coast-to-coast," explains Christiansen.
For an FBO with more than 200 planes leased out, that's a bit of an understatement. Christiansen Jet Center is now one of the largest owners of single-engine Cessnas in the land.
That's one of several accomplishments for Christiansen Jet Center, which is celebrating 40 years in business this June with a big party, featuring Oklahoma barbecue, live music and a raffle to benefit Big Brothers & Sisters of Green County.
And later this summer, one lucky winner will pocket 60,000 celebratory WingPoints®, courtesy of Phillips 66® Aviation, which has been fueling Christiansen Jet Center since 1996.
What began humbly in 1972 as a two-employee operation with three aircraft, now employs 35 aviation professionals and owns a couple of hundred aircraft. Christiansen Jet Center is now a sprawling, diversified facility, well suited to handle the traffic at Jones/Riverside Airport, Oklahoma's busiest airport, with some 350,000 aircraft operations annually.
"We started with an idea, that if you give each customer the same first-class service, more customers will come," says Christiansen. "We work at it every day. It's what's kept us in business for four decades."
And the customers keep coming.
They house corporate jets, single-engine pistons and a host of various-sized aircraft in 130,000 square feet of space throughout seven hangars. They come by the dozens to lease aircraft from Christiansen Aviation, seeking planes for universities and flight schools. They land to do business in one of the Midwest's vibrant cities, which learned to diversify its reliance on the oil patch that built Oklahoma. Today, Tulsa has an unemployment rate three percentage points below the national average. And in a few years, a million people are expected to call the Tulsa MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) home.
"Forbes magazine once rated Tulsa as one of the best cities in the nation to do business with," says Christiansen. "First impressions count, so we strive to make Tulsa's 'front door' a satisfying experience for our customers."
Part of that Oklahoma full-service FBO hospitality includes freshly baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies and a lounge that lures pilots with a pool table and satellite television. There is a snooze room and showers for both men and women. Along with aircraft sales and leasing, Christiansen Jet Center provides maintenance, parts and pilot supplies. It is also the single-engine Cessna dealer for Oklahoma.
Christiansen credits the FBO's diverse offerings with its staying power.
"Back in 1972, we started with very little, but we had big dreams," Christiansen says. "It's taken time, but we've grown by diversifying, leveraging our flight training and leasing programs beyond our Tulsa home base, while building large amounts of hangar space to both accommodate and feed our growth."
Keeping those hangars filled also means filling the industry's pipeline with future pilots, says Christiansen. The FBO has a busy Part 61 flight school, training novices seeking a private pilot's license to experienced pilots seeking multi-engine certificates. A fleet of Cessna 152s, 172s and 172RGs is used for single-engine training, while a Piper Seminole takes students into the multi-engine world.
The FBO uses a Discovery Flight Program to fuel interest in flight school. Its Cessna Flight Training System pairs ground school and flight in a way that Christiansen believes is more efficient and faster than using traditional training to get a rating.
Still, looking back over 40 years, Christiansen's smile seems bigger when he talks about the FBO's leasing and sales programs. Perhaps it's that Cessna the Christiansen Jet Center painted with black, yellow and red stripes evocative of the Kenyan flag. Or maybe it's that plane they sent to Mongolia.
"There is something satisfying about crating up our enthusiasm for aviation and shipping it to places we once only dreamt about," says Christiansen.For more information on Christiansen Jet Center, call 918-298-6650, or visit www.christiansenaviation.com.