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Tue, May 21

Airport prepares for arrival of larger planes

PRESCOTT - With a new airline arriving in September that will feature aircraft four times larger than the location's usual planes, myriad preparations are under way at the Prescott Airport.

On Sept. 8, Horizon Air is set to arrive at the Prescott Airport, bringing with it its 76-seat aircraft.

The airplanes, which will make regular non-stop flights between Prescott and Los Angeles International Airport, are substantially larger than the 19-seaters that previous carriers have used at the local airport.

And with the larger airplanes come greater requirements for security, says Prescott Airport Manager Ben Vardiman.

"We're having to enhance the security program," Vardiman said, noting that Prescott was previously in compliance with U.S. Transportation Security Administration regulations for the 19-seat planes. "But there are more advanced requirements that we now have to comply with," he added.

Many of the details of the enhanced security are confidential, Vardiman said, and passengers likely will not notice most of the changes.

One major change that everyone should notice, however, is the addition of a new 28-foot-by-76-foot modular building that will serve as the security screening station and waiting area for passengers after they pass through security.

"It's not going to be opulent, but it is going to have a bigger waiting area," City Manager Steve Norwood said of the addition of the new building.

Officials pointed out that the existing security and waiting area at the airport's 60-year-old terminal made for cramped conditions. Passengers had little space to sit after they got through security and awaited their flight.

With the new airline arriving in just more than a month, Vardiman said, "We're moving forward quickly right now. We have a little bit of a time crunch, because this all came about in a hurry."

To get the improvements done in a relatively short period of time, Vardiman said, "There has just been phenomenal teamwork - not only from city staff, but from the entire community."

And so far, the work is on schedule to be complete by the end of August, Norwood said.

Earlier this year, the Prescott City Council approved an incentive package for attracting Horizon Air that included the addition of the new building, as well as a revenue guarantee, in the event Horizon does not reach its customer projections.

Since then, Vardiman noted that the city received a grant from the aeronautics division of the Arizona Department of Transportation that covers the cost of the building improvements. The total involves $135,000 of grant money, and a $15,000 local match.

"That covers everything that we're doing," Vardiman said, including the building, the electrical work, and the construction of a breezeway that will connect the terminal to the new building.

In addition, the city received a commitment from the Town of Prescott Valley to cover a portion of the revenue guarantee.

Along with the arrival of Horizon, Sept. 8 also will feature the return to the airport of Great Lakes Airlines, which will be offering flights to Phoenix and Ontario, Calif.

While Great Lakes will continue to use 19-seat aircraft, Vardiman said the improvements would benefit its passengers as well.

Indeed, while the arrival of Horizon motivated the improvements, Vardiman termed improvements to the terminal "long overdue."

The Prescott Airport has been without commercial airline service since the end of May, when the previous provider, Air Midwest, a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group, went out of business and left the market.

After that, the U.S. Department of Transportation solicited bids for a replacement for Prescott's Essential Air Service subsidy, and Great Lakes won the new contract.

Monica Taylor, director of sales and marketing for Great Lakes, reported this past week that the airline would fly into Terminal 2 at the Phoenix' Sky Harbor, as it did when the airline had the Essential Air Service contract from 2005 to 2007.

Although she acknowledged that local officials would prefer Great Lakes to fly into Terminal 4 instead, Taylor said that is unlikely because of constraints at Sky Harbor.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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