Originally Published: November 12, 2017 6 a.m.
For years, the nearly septuagenarian terminal at the Prescott Airport has been eyed for modernization.
The terminal, with its quaint fireplace and limited seating, was built in 1948. City officials have talked about replacing it since at least the 1990s.
Now, Prescott Mayor Harry Oberg and local doctor Hojat Askari are heading up an effort to get the community involved in making that happen.
A new Friends of the Prescott Airport effort got underway recently, seeking contributions from local residents, businesses and organizations to bring about a more up-to-date terminal.
In turn, Oberg predicts, the updated terminal would attract more varied commercial air service to the community.
“A better terminal is going to bring better air service,” Oberg said, noting that airlines such as SkyWest and American Eagle have indicated interest in locating in Prescott — if the terminal were improved.
Askari pointed out that Prescott residents who fly frequently out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix likely have experienced the stress of making it to a flight via congested Interstate 17.
As a doctor at Thumb Medical Center, Askari said he has heard of numerous instances where doctors traveling to Prescott have been delayed because of traffic.
And even if they are not delayed, Oberg and Askari say, professionals often frown on having to make the drive by shuttle or car from Phoenix to Prescott.
“I have not seen one person who opposes this,” Askari said of the plan for a better terminal. “We have to have reliable air service.”
Although Prescott does have commercial air service with Great Lakes Airlines through the federal Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidy program, Oberg said he has heard from many local residents that more options are needed.
Campaign gets underway
The Friends of the Prescott Airport effort is looking to raise $3 million toward the $6 million cost of a new 10,000-square-foot terminal.
Oberg said the effort originated with a discussion he had with Askari a few months back, when the idea of a public-private partnership for the airport terminal came up.
Oberg says that Askari responded, “Maybe I can help with that.”
A recent fundraiser at Askari’s home kicked off the fundraising campaign. Askari said he started off the effort with a $10,000 contribution, and the doctors at Thumb Butte Medical Center are putting in another $15,000.
The effort is being conducted under the Arizona Community Foundation, and Askari said contributions are tax-deductible.
If $3 million were to come from the private sector, Oberg and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Lamerson say the city has money in its reserve fund to put toward the remainder. In addition, the city would look to other quad-city communities to help come up with the total, they said, emphasizing that the airport is a regional facility.
While Oberg’s term will end later this month, he said he plans to continue with the Friends of the Prescott Airport effort.
Meanwhile, Lamerson stressed that all of the incoming City Council members voiced support for airport improvements during the 2017 campaign. “The question now is to hold their feet to the fire,” he said. (The new mayor and council will be sworn into office on Nov. 28).
Along with the need for a new terminal, Oberg and Lamerson say the airport also has a dire need for a longer and more durable runway.
Currently, they say, U.S. Forest Service slurry bombers are flying into and out of the Prescott Airport on a waiver, because of the existing runway’s limitations.
And even with the waiver, Oberg said the fire-fighting aircraft often must leave the Prescott Airport only partially loaded with slurry.
“On hot days, the runway isn’t long enough,” Oberg said — a situation that causes the slurry bombers to lighten their loads in order to take off.
And pointing out that a new design for slurry bombers is imminent, Oberg said, “The new ones will be even heavier.”
The limitations of Prescott’s runway were apparent in October 2016, when then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign wanted to land a 737 at the Prescott Airport for its Oct. 4 stop in Prescott Valley.
Oberg said the campaign ended up arriving in three smaller jets because the runway could not handle the 737. At that time, Oberg says he got an assurance from a Trump campaign official that, if elected, President Trump would help Prescott to get a lengthened runway. Oberg said he has since followed up, and hopes that the assurance would help the city to get the needed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant assistance.
And he maintains that a public-private effort to get a new terminal also would go a long way toward convincing the federal department of the community’s commitment.
“Right now, we need the terminal first,” Oberg said. “I’ve been talking to the FAA, and they say if the city showed interest by building a terminal, it would be proof to them (of the commitment),” Oberg said.
Lamerson agreed that the two projects are linked. “It has to be a combined effort — the runway and the terminal,” he said.