Originally Published: August 4, 2017 6 a.m.
One central question continues to stir up turbulence in the planning for Prescott’s airport: Should it expand?
Nearly 100 people turned out at the Prescott Valley Public Library on Wednesday, Aug. 2, for the second public meeting in the ongoing airport master-planning process.
On one hand, the Prescott Municipal Airport reportedly is moving toward regional status; on the other, nearby residents continue to voice worries over the noise from a growing airport.
The tone of this week’s meeting was contentious, as residents pushed the consultants for answers on runway lengths, safety issues with the U.S. Forest Service’s slurry bombers, and flight patterns.
Although the meeting was intended to be an open-house format, those in attendance had other ideas. In response to organizers’ repeated attempts to break up into informal discussion groups, audience members objected, maintaining that they wanted a more public discussion.
“I don’t get to hear what the others have to say,” Chino Valley resident Al Gibbons said, maintaining that an open-house setting prevents the airing of collective issues. “Is that by design?” he asked.
Airport Assistant Manager Jessie Baker said the open-house setting is designed to let people focus on the issues that matter most to them. She said a number of consultants were on hand to explain the maps and diagrams that were set up around the room.
What resulted was a lengthy public discussion, with a number of residents asking questions and voicing concerns, before the meeting evolved into the open-house format.
Impacts of slurry bombers
Gibbons was adamant in his concerns over the length of the runway. He disputed the city’s claims that a longer, stronger runway was needed to handle fire-fighting slurry bombers.
To back up his claims, Gibbons read a letter he had received in October 2016 from the Forest Service, which stated: “The U.S. Forest Service is not requesting that the Prescott Airport lengthen their runways. The airtanker base located at the Prescott Airport was recently reconstructed and it can accommodate all of the current airtanker fleet with the exception of the DC-10. We conduct DC-10 operations from the U.S. Forest Service base in Phoenix.”
Baker noted afterward that although the Forest Service has not requested a runway expansion, firefighting traffic has had an impact on the runway. For instance, she said, heavy helicopter traffic left indentions in the pavement. “Every take-off and landing can affect the pavement,” Baker said.
And Douglas Sander, the project manager of the master-planning process with Delta Airport Consultants, emphasized that the runway needs to be lengthened to handle existing commercial traffic.
His presentation noted that the EMB 120 turboprop aircraft used by Great Lakes Airlines, Prescott’s commercial airline, is currently limited by weight limitations. At the current runway length, he said, Great Lakes cannot take off with a fully loaded aircraft.
By lengthening the main runway from its current 7,610 feet to 9,100 feet, consultants say Great Lakes would be able to take off with its aircraft fully loaded with 30 passengers.
Is expansion warranted?
Audience members were skeptical, however, that the runway expansion was needed just to handle existing traffic. Several maintained that the Prescott City Council appears to support bringing in larger aircraft.
But Sander said the airport would have to show related aircraft activity before it would be eligible for the federal grants needed for further expansion projects. “The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is not a proponent of ‘build it and they will come,’” he said.
But that raised a concern from local resident and pilot Rob Dunsmore, who worried that the Prescott Airport was not adequately preparing for the type of aircraft that could fly to international hubs such as Seattle and San Francisco – a move that he said would be necessary to make the airport a true regional facility.
This week’s meeting was conducted in Prescott Valley, in part, to advance the regional aspect of the Prescott Airport, Baker said.
Prescott Valley Harvey Skoog voiced support for the regional effort. “It is about time to make the airport a regional airport,” he said at the start of the meeting.
Sander said the next public meeting would focus on alternatives. Baker added that the estimated cost of the identified runway and terminal improvements would also be included in a future chapter of the master plan.
The most recent master plan for the Prescott Municipal Airport was completed in 2010, but was started in 2007, Sander said. Because the economy changed dramatically in 2008 with the recession, he said a new master plan was needed.