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4:02 PM Thu, Oct. 18th

Council looks at airport runway

PRESCOTT -  There are no small projects at the Prescott Airport, it seems.

As the experts explain it, a number of inter-connected improvements are needed at the airport, if it is to become a hub for economic development and transportation.

The key to it all: Improving the main runway.

"The future economic success will be defined by the city's ability to extend and strengthen the main runway," stated this week's report on the key airport area findings.

In order for the airport to safely handle the heavier regional and corporate jets and fire-service slurry bombers, the runway needs to be lengthened from its current 7,600 feet to anywhere from 9,000 to 9,600 feet, said Prescott Airport Manager John Cox.

At its current length, he said, the runway is not ideal for the larger aircraft.

By adding another 1,400 to 2,000 feet, along with an overlay for strength, the runway would be capable of handling 95 percent of corporate jet and regional jet traffic, Cox said.

But a number of things would have to happen first.

First of all, the city would have to buy additional land for the runway extension and do a full-blown environmental assessment.

Then, the taxiway leading to the main runway would have to moved to allow for the required safety space between the two. In addition, the air traffic control tower would have to be moved so that controllers would have a view of the newly lengthened runway.

The estimated cost for all of the related changes: $45 million ($3 million of it local, with the majority coming through federal grants).

And that does not even include a new airport terminal, which officials say is essential in the recruitment of commercial airlines.

The airport's inter-related issues were in the spotlight this week, when the Prescott City Council conducted a special workshop with members of the ad hoc steering group that has been meeting for months on the ongoing Airport Strategic Plan.

The strategic plan got under way this past January, when Economic Initiatives Director Jeff Burt kicked off the planning with a presentation to the City Council. Since then, the council has heard updates in February, March, and April.

Meanwhile, the steering committee, which is made up of aviation experts and local business people, has been meeting to come up with key findings about the airport area. In all, the steering group ahas met 23 times, and has conducted eight sessions with airport-area stakeholders.

At Wednesday's workshop at the Prescott Public Library, members of the committee stressed the important role the airport plays in economic development efforts.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Chancellor Frank Ayers, one of the steering committee members, noted that recent ERAU graduates often want to pursue their careers in Prescott.

"We have a lot of young people who want to live here," Ayers told the council. But the jobs that would keep them here are simply not available.

Among the goals of the strategic plan is to increase the economic development on the land around the airport.

The current state of the airport makes economic development difficult, however. Ayers noted that corporations often cannot land their corporate jets in Prescott, and because of the limited commercial air service, corporate representatives frequently have to fly into Phoenix to get to Prescott.

And regarding the recruitment of new commercial airlines to Prescott, steering committee member and ERAU Business Department Chair Robin Sobotta noted that Prescott's 1940s-era terminal serves as a "dis-incentive."

City council members took a no vote at the Wednesday workshop, but a majority appeared to favor moving on to the next step in improving the airport.

Next up for the council will be consideration of two airport-related items: adoption of the airport and airport-area recommendations; and approval of a contract for an airport terminal siting assessment, estimated at a cost of about $40,000.