TULSA — Bill Christiansen always knew he wanted to be a pilot.
“I learned to fly in high school in New Jersey,” he said. “I wanted to be an airline pilot, but my mother said I needed a college education, and OU (University of Oklahoma) had a flight school.”
Christiansen is the owner and founder of Christiansen Aviation, the fixed-base operator, flight school and Cessna Aircraft dealer that is celebrating its 40th anniversary in business at Jones Riverside Airport.
Christiansen graduated from OU and then served in the Marines. After that, he said, he was looking around for a site to open a flight school and found a small building to rent at Jones Riverside.
“The pilot count was good in Tulsa, and it turned out Tulsa was a great aviation community,” Christiansen said.
Although he didn't know it at the time, Tulsa has occupied a prominent position in the aviation industry since the mid-1920s.
Airmail way station
Beginning as a stop for barnstorming pilots after World War II, Tulsa evolved into an all-weather stop on cross-country airmail routes between Chicago and Los Angeles and then into a hub on transcontinental commercial flights.
In 1928, Tulsa civic leaders established Tulsa Municipal Airport, and oilman W.G. Skelly founded Spartan School of Aeronautics.
The energy and aviation industries have been linked in Tulsa ever since, officials said.
Business was good in the early years at Christiansen Aviation, but in 1974 Christiansen ensured its future by affiliating with Cessna Aircraft Co.
“The most important thing Cessna had going for them was that they had small single-engine planes and also made multi-engine corporate aircraft,” Christiansen said. “Cessna covered the whole gamut of general aviation airplanes, and it also has been very supportive of parts requirements. When I became a dealer for them in 1974, it was my first real hope that this would be a long-term business.”
The late-1970s brought major turbulence, however, when interest rates topped 19 percent, double-digit inflation became a fact of life and an oil embargo sent fuel prices soaring.
“Things gradually got better, but Cessna stopped producing single-engine airplanes in 1986, which improved the value of used aircraft,” Christiansen said. “We always had a flight school — it's not a large revenue producer — but it can develop possibilities for (future) airplane sales.”