Prescott faces key choices on airport's future

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>Prescott’s airport terminal “was built in 1947, and it looks like it was built in 1947,” city councilman Chris Kuknyo remarked.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>Prescott’s airport terminal “was built in 1947, and it looks like it was built in 1947,” city councilman Chris Kuknyo remarked.

Often, when airport users enter Prescott's aging terminal for the first time, they ask a telling question: "Where's the terminal?"

With its low-key appearance, the 67-year-old building apparently does not look the part of a modern air terminal - causing a bit of confusion for newcomers.

Prescott City Councilman Chris Kuknyo says that sums up an ongoing issue for the airport.

"The terminal was built in 1947, and it looks like it was built in 1947," Kuknyo said Tuesday morning during the latest Prescott City Council workshop on strategic planning for the airport.

"When people walk into the terminal and say 'Where's the terminal?' that says it all," Kuknyo added.

Airport Manager Jeff Tripp, who noted that airport workers had fielded such a question just last week, said the terminal is not the only issue for the airport.

He and Prescott Economic Initiatives Director Jeff Burt outlined a lengthy list of projects necessary to bring the airport up to date.

And, depending on which direction the City Council heads with the Prescott Airport, the cost could range from $29.9 million to $93.6 million.

As a part of the ongoing strategic planning process for the airport, city officials are asking the City Council to set a course for the next 20 years or so.

A critical question: Should the airport be a "best-in-class" general-aviation facility that would not offer commercial passenger service, or should it develop into a regional airport with regular air-passenger service?

"The airport really has two futures," Burt told the council this week. "It's a decision of this council which way the airport goes."

Either way, officials say, the airport would need some major improvements.

In order to maintain general-aviation status,

the Prescott Airport requires about $29.9 million of work on its taxiways, pavement preservation, and land acquisition to protect the runway.

And, if the city hopes to attract regular air-passenger service beyond the subsidized commercial service it currently has, it would have to spend not only the $29.9 million, but also an additional $63.7 million on projects such as a new terminal, lengthening and strengthening the runway, and a new air traffic control tower.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants could be available to cover the bulk of the costs, but the city would still have to come up with a local share of as much as $6.6 million. And in order to lay the groundwork for the grants, Burt and Tripp say the process should begin soon as possible.

Even if the city started now, they say, regional-airport status could still be 10 to 15 years in the future.

The most pressing issue for the airport is relocation of its "Taxiway Charlie." Tripp explained after the meeting that federal standards have changed through the years as airplanes have changed.

While Taxiway Charlie is about 325 feet from the airport's runway, Tripp said new standards call for a 400-foot separation. A taxiway relocation would cost about $15.9 million.

Other projects included in the improvements for general-aviation status include $6.6 million in taxiway lighting upgrades; $4.7 million in runway protection land acquisition; and $1.4 million in average annual pavement preservation.

The regional-airport level would require $19.9 million for a new terminal and support infrastructure; $18 million for runway lengthening/strengthening; and $14 million for a new air traffic control tower.

Burt said after the meeting that city staffers are hoping to get a general feel from council members next month on which alternative they favor.

Even so, he pointed out that final decisions are still months away.

The economic development department is hoping to include an air passenger service analysis in its budget for the next fiscal year, Burt said, noting that such a study would answer key questions about whether Prescott could attract the type of commercial airlines needed for a regional airport.

Along with the discussion on air passenger service, council members have also emphasized the importance of improving the airport to continue to accommodate the U.S. Forest Service's slurry bombers, which have been crucial in the defense against wildfires.

The city kicked off its strategic planning for the airport in January, and since then, the council has conducted monthly workshops on the issue. Burt said a fourth and final workshop is set for late April, although he noted that the council could opt for more meetings, if necessary.

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