Photo by Cindy Barks.
Originally Published: March 19, 2017 6:02 a.m.
The future of the Prescott Municipal Airport – whether it will grow or level off – was at the heart of the discussion at a public meeting that attracted more than 125 people this past week.
The regional open-house that took place Thursday evening was the first of several meetings planned to take place throughout the airport master-planning process, which got started this past fall and will continue for the next year or so.
Local officials and planning consultants emphasized repeatedly Thursday night that the planning process is still in the early stages, and that the master plan would reflect the wishes of the community.
Still, a number of residents – many from the Piñon Oaks subdivision – had questions about whether the airport would grow in the future, and how that would affect their homes, which are located nearby.
At the same time, others in the audience suggested that an expanded airport that could accommodate larger aircraft would improve the quality of life, along with opportunities for commerce, in Prescott.
The open house setting split the crowd among various consultants and city officials. In one part of the room, for instance, consultant Douglas Sander was fielding a barrage of questions and complaints about the airport from Piñon Oaks residents.
“What we’re worried about is noise, traffic, and property values going in the tank,” Piñon Oaks resident Don Helfenstein said later.
He and others maintain that the airport’s flight patterns already were routing traffic over their homes, and they worry that added capacity at the airport would only exacerbate that.
Sander pointed out that the flight patterns are largely determined and regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – through the Air Traffic Control tower.
But Helfenstein responded: “What we see of the pattern is that (aircraft) don’t really adhere to that.” Before the city makes any plans for the airport, he said, “I think what you need to do is put a vote to the people of Prescott to see if they want to expand the airport.”
Airport expansion benefits
Afterward, Prescott Mayor Harry Oberg said he has heard from many local residents and business owners who want to see an expanded airport that could accommodate larger aircraft.
Others in the audience voiced support for expanded air service as well. Among them was FedEx Sales Director Frank Newman, who pointed out that Prescott is situated within a two-hour flight of a number of major airport hubs, such as Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Dallas.
Having commercial flights that could connect directly to those hubs would give Prescott residents easy access to anywhere in the U.S., he said, without being dependent on traffic constraints on Highway 69 and Interstate 17.
Such access also would improve service from companies such as FedEx, Newman said, which currently relies largely on ground transportation.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Chancellor Frank Ayers added that an expanded airport would enhance the region’s opportunities to bring in businesses in sought-after fields such as aerospace and security.
The concept of expanding the airport “is just a positive all around,” Ayers said.
Oberg noted that one of city’s goals for the airport is a runway extension, which he said actually could help to route air traffic away from the residential areas.
Airport Manager John Cox noted that the runway extension is still in the conceptual stages and is among the improvements that would require planning.
And of the airport impacts on nearby residents, Cox said, “We know there are some people who are concerned about noise, and the environment (from the airport).” But, he said, buyers at subdivisions such as Piñon Oaks are required by state regulation to be informed that they will be living within a five-mile radius of the airport. That brings with it some impacts from the commercial/industrial complex, he said.
Ongoing planning process
The cost for the master plan is expected to total about $950,000, Cox said. Of that, an FAA grant will cover 95 percent, while the Arizona Department of Transportation will pay about 2.5 percent. The city will be responsible for the remaining cost – about $23,000, which Cox said would come from the airport fund.
The next regional open house on the airport master plan is expected to occur in about July or August, Cox added. At that time, he expects consultants to have information on the potential needs at the airport, while the third meeting – likely several months later – will focus on costs and financing.
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