Arizona Also Understands the Value of its Airports

It appears that the state of Arizona also gets it about the value of its airports, just as Oregon does. Makes you wonder doesn’t it??? Why is California so clueless when it comes to the value of its airports? Sunday, April 23, 2006
Opinion
Gateway turbulence is smoothing out
The Arizona Republic

Wasn’t it just yesterday that East Valley cities were agonizing over the future uses of Williams Air Force Base?

Industrial parks? New home developments? Shopping centers?

The lists of options when Williams closed in 1993 seemed lengthy, but not many of them included retaining the primary function of the military base, its airport. And several of those airport options involved using Williams for air freight only.

Now, the idea of someday employing Williams Gateway Airport as a regional option to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport seems perfectly obvious. What changed?

We changed. That is, far more people will be moving into the once-distant region surrounding Williams Gateway than previously imagined, thus making viable a substantial investment in a regional airport there.

According to recent estimates, 1.5 million people will live within a half hour’s drive of Williams Gateway by 2020, twice the number of current residents. For many of those people, Sky Harbor will be at least twice as far away.

Those future demographics represent the biggest – but far from the only – reason Phoenix’s decision last week to invest $11.5 million into Williams Gateway over the next five years is fiscally sound and practical. If population dynamics are going to make inevitable a regional airport operation at Williams Gateway, it is far preferable for that airport to be a partner with Sky Harbor than an antagonistic competitor.

It’s not like Sky Harbor doesn’t need the help.

One of the most convenient and efficient airports in the nation, Sky Harbor today provides service to 41.2 million passengers a year on 23 airline carriers.

“We think (airline passenger) demand will grow by 10 million in the next 10 years,” says airport Director David Krietor. “If Williams Gateway can handle 2 million, that’s good for the region.”

Given the enormity of its footprint – more than 3,000 acres – some experts envision bigger things for Williams Gateway. Some see a “Chicago area” model: Williams Gateway becoming an “O’Hare” style mega-airport, relegating land-locked Sky Harbor to “Midway” status.

The demands of airline travelers will determine which airport ultimately is the dominant one, certainly.

But if Williams Gateway is to contribute at all – on any scale – then tapping the expertise of Phoenix’s airport experts greatly enhances the likelihood that the East Valley facility will evolve efficiently.

Currently, Williams Gateway offers passenger service to Las Vegas’ north-side airport three days a week. Krietor and others envision that expanding to include more of that “point to point” service to several other cities in the Southwest and California, leaving the more complex connecting-flight arrangements at Sky Harbor.

As a business predicated on customer convenience, market demand will decide the destinations and number of flights from Williams Gateway.

It’s a pity, then, that this mutually beneficial arrangement between the East Valley and central Phoenix won’t be replicated in the West Valley anytime soon.

“In the near term, the West Valley will be the most underserved,” acknowledges Krietor. “If you live in the West Valley or the northwest Valley, you’re still going to have a hike to get to the airport.”

Of course, when Williams Air Force Base closed in 1993, most of us presumed long rides to the airport for East Valley residents too.

Things change. For those living in the East Valley, some of those airport rides may soon be getting a good bit shorter.

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