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Wed, May 22

Prescott Airport approaches passenger milestone

PRESCOTT - By Monday, the Prescott Airport should exceed the 10,000-passenger mark for 2009 - an achievement it has not reached for more than a decade.

Although the numbers are not yet official, they are close enough to have the city anticipating the long-awaited $1 million-per-year in federal money that goes to airports that handle at least 10,000 commercial passengers annually.

Airport Manager Ben Vardiman reported Friday that Prescott passenger numbers stood at 9,465 at the end of October.

With an average of 270 passengers boarding commercial flights each week throughout October, Vardiman said, "We expect to reach 10,000 (passengers) on Monday."

By the end of 2009, City Manager Steve Norwood estimated that the airport would log about 11,000 passengers.

That would make this the first year since 1997 that the Prescott Airport achieved the 10,000-passenger benchmark.

In 1997, the airport's passenger count stood at 10,043, Vardiman said, and prior to that, the airport achieved the 10,000 mark throughout much of the early-to-mid 1990s, with the exception of 1991.

The closest the Prescott Airport came to its 10,000-passenger goal since 1997 was 2000, when the total stood at 9,393. Numbers plummeted after that, with just 4,683 passengers in 2001.

Since then, Prescott officials have eyed the 10,000 mark as a possible way to generate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant money to help pay for a new airport terminal.

But this week, neither Vardiman nor Norwood expected the city's first $1 million installment of the grant money to go toward a new terminal. Rather, they say, the money likely would go to higher priorities at the airport.

The city will "take a hard look at capital needs and prioritize," said Norwood, noting that the $1 million must go toward capital improvements.

While the $1-million-per-year FAA grant money can accumulate for three years, Norwood pointed out that a new terminal likely would cost about $15 million.

"We have too many other capital needs," he said of the possibility of the money going toward a new terminal.

Vardiman pointed out that the airport's existing priority list includes improvements such as security upgrades and runway safety issues.

Work on the next capital improvement plan, which must gain FAA approval, is just getting started, Vardiman said.

The city likely would receive the $1 million in FAA entitlement money in September 2010 for the 2009 calendar year, Norwood said.

Currently, the city receives $150,000 in the FAA entitlement money, Vardiman said.

The city's passenger numbers got a major boost in September 2008, when Seattle-based Horizon Air began offering non-stop flights between Prescott and Los Angeles, along with the flights that Great Lakes Airlines provides through its Essential Air Service subsidy.

Currently, Great Lakes offers flights to Denver and Ontario, Calif.

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