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4:20 AM Sun, Jan. 20th

Heavy traffic ahead at Prescott Regional Airport

City poised to begin new terminal construction by fall

The United Express flight departs for Denver Thursday, January 10, 2019 from Prescott Regional Airport. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

The United Express flight departs for Denver Thursday, January 10, 2019 from Prescott Regional Airport. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

In light of the Prescott Regional Airport’s recent accomplishment of 10,000 boarding passengers in 2018, the question arises: What happens next?

The response from Airport Director Robin Sobotta: Plenty.

With just 111 passengers to spare, the city achieved its long-sought-after 10,000-enplanement benchmark by the end of 2018 — with a total of 10,111.

Mayor Pro Tem Billie Orr reported the number this week, noting that the goal was achieved despite a snow-related canceled flight to Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31.

“We will, in fact, get $1 million a year,” Orr said at the Jan. 8 Prescott City Council meeting, referring to the annual federal aviation money to which the 10,000-enplanement level entitles the Prescott Regional Airport.

And city officials say prospects look good for considerably higher passenger numbers in 2019.

December 2018 flights were nearly full to capacity — running at a 91 percent or more “load factor” in the second half of the month, according to information from the airport.

The city’s current commercial carrier, United Express, has operated since late August 2018 and reported 8,912 boarding revenue passengers (enplanements) during those last four months of the year or so.

That is in addition to the 1,199 enplanements reported by the city’s previous Essential Air Service carrier, Great Lakes Airlines, in the first three months of the year — before the airline’s suspension of service in late March 2018.

Based on a full year at a similar load factor for United Express (75.85 percent average for 2018), the city is estimating that anywhere between 27,000 and 29,000 passengers could board flights in Prescott in 2019.

TERMINAL PROJECT A GO

In anticipation of growing numbers, the city has been moving ahead in recent months with the design of a new 18,000-square-foot passenger terminal.

Although some of the finances are still to be determined, Sobotta said the $1 million a year entitlement money would help to ensure that the city would move ahead, as planned, with breaking ground on the new terminal by mid-September 2019.

The regular $1-million-per-year annual federal contribution — in combination with as much as $3.5 million of reserve money that the city has pledged — likely would be enough to get the terminal started, Sobotta said, even without additional federal grant money.

Still to be determined is whether the terminal project will be awarded millions of dollars more in federal aviation supplemental funds.

The city applied for the grant money months ago, and Sobotta expects to hear on that application process early in the first quarter of 2019.

‘CONTINUED SUPPORT OF FAA’

Just this week, the city received word from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the terminal project would be permitted to use the “construction manager at risk (CMAR)” process for bidding the $11.9 million terminal.

As opposed to the traditional design-bid-build process, the CMAR process allows the chosen construction contractor to get involved early in the design phase.

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The United Express flight prepares to depart for Denver Thursday, January 10, 2019 from Prescott Regional Airport. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Sobotta said the federal approval of the CMAR process shows “continued support from the FAA” for the terminal project, which she said airport officials see as good news for the supplemental-grant prospects.

Based on the earlier estimated terminal cost of $11 million, the city applied for $9.2 million in supplemental funds, Sobotta said.

CONTRACTOR INTEREST

Already, local and Arizona contractors have shown plenty of interest in the terminal project.

The city conducted its pre-submittal meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10, to discuss the upcoming bidding process.

Airport Operations Supervisor Doug Whitney reported late Thursday afternoon that nine firms attended the meeting, which was mandatory for any companies planning to apply for the project.

“It was an excellent turnout,” Whitney said.

Sobotta said the interested companies were all from Arizona, and some were local.

The firms now have until Jan. 31 to submit their statements of qualification to the city. Presentations and interviews are tentatively set for Feb. 13, and a contract could be awarded later in February, Sobotta said.

The chosen contractor would then get involved with the design at about the 60 percent completion stage, after which a guaranteed maximum price would be determined.

Sobotta said the CMAR contractor would then likely conduct a bidding process for sub-contractors.

The Prescott City Council approved the 30 percent design of the terminal in December, and the final construction documents are expected to be complete by the second quarter of the year, with FAA approval to bid/permit projected by May 29.