Palm Springs Airport is Critical to the Valley’s Future

Our airport is critical to the valley’s future. Without the Palm Springs International Airport, the Coachella Valley would not be the world-class destination it is today.

The airport was built in 1939 as a U.S. Army Air Forces field on land owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Palm Springs bought the land in 1961 and opened the Palm Springs Municipal Airport in 1964. It became a regional airport in 1987 and earned the international designation when flights to Canada began in December 1998.

The late Sonny Bono, our congressman at the time, worked with the Canadian government to arrange pre-cleared flights. When an Alaska Airlines flight arrived from Vancouver, the name change became official.

Several recent developments boost our confidence that planes will continue to soar in and out of our valley.

The Palm Springs City Council approved a 40-year lease with the U.S. Department of Transportation to pave the way for a new air traffic control tower.

The original six-story tower, built in 1967, is not tall enough for controllers to see the end of the runway.

The new tower would be twice as tall, on 1.2 acres next to the old one. Construction on the $21 million project could start next year and finish by early 2012.

The other promising development was a public hearing Tuesday on the master plan to accommodate growth at the airport through 2028. About 1.5 million passengers flew in and out of the airport in 2008 to and from more than 500 cities around the world.

Tom Nolan, executive director of the airport, says that during peak season, 10 airlines provide direct service to more than 15 major cities.

Evan Pfahler, project manager for the master plan, said the airport expects an 84 percent increase in traffic in the next 20 years.

A beautiful new concourse was added this year as part of a $25 million capital project. The ambiance of our airport is even more comfortable and inviting.

In response to The Desert Sun’s coverage recently, several letters to the editor have complained about rates at PSP compared to the Ontario airport or LAX. Many said that despite the easy access to the airport in Palm Springs, they make the long drives and pay more for parking to save money overall at other airports.

They’re right in some cases, but the airport doesn’t set the rates.

“The airlines control this,” said Palm Springs City Manager David Ready. “The question for Palm Springs is: What can we do to make the experience for the traveler more efficient and enjoyable?

“Some flights are more expensive but most flights are very competitive.”

Parking in Palm Springs is the cheapest in Southern California, Ready said, and it is the one of the few airports where you get off the plane, grab your bags and go straight to your car without having to take a shuttle.

Ready believes that cutting out the long drive and reducing the stress of travel outweigh occasional higher rates. We agree.

The airport must continue to thrive to keep our economy healthy. Without this airport, the tourism industry would hit some major turbulence.

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