Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Yuma airport director pushes to keep funding
BY SARAH REYNOLDS
The Yuma (AZ) Sun
CRAIG WILLIAMS, the Yuma International
Airport director, points out the features of a newly constructed indoor
Airport Director Craig Williams knows all too well that money doesn't just fall
out of the sky.
Arizona's looming budget deficit, which state officials estimate will be
between $875 million and $1 billion, has prompted entities across the state to
scramble to maintain resources. The airport is no exception.
The Aeronautics Division of the Arizona Department of Transportation
distributes grant funds to airports around the state every year - including an
average of $2 million to Yuma. Without it, Williams said, projects such as
expanding security terminals and widening taxiways for large aircraft could be
"It's vital to keeping the airport viable," Williams said.
The airport is in the process of expanding to keep pace with the growing
community and the increased demand for local air travel. While much of that
expansion is already paid for, new projects would be threatened by state
Yuma now has air service to four major air travel hubs: Phoenix, Los Angeles,
Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, added Dec. 17. More than 62,000 flew into the
airport in 2006 and 64,000 boarded planes here.
In addition to commercial traffic, the airport leases space to the U.S. Border
Patrol's aircraft and frequently services military planes through its
relationship with Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, with which it shares the
The Border Patrol plans to build a new 40,000-square-foot air facility there
but, before that can go forward, Williams said they need to make the slated
space usable. This will mean repairing cracked, debilitated runways so aircraft
can take off and land safely.
"The taxiway has become so deteriorated over time that we've had to close
it," Williams said.
Even the usable taxiways are not wide enough to comfortably handle many of the
military planes Williams and his staff are confronted with.
The taxiways average a width of 25-35 feet. Williams said they need to widen
that to at least 50 feet to accommodate planes like the AN-124, which is more
than 226 feet long with a wingspan of 240 feet.
"We're getting humongous airplanes," he said. "They can make it
but I really worry when I see those big planes coming in ... Whenever you're in
an aircraft and you're turning a corner, those extra 15 feet make a lot of
The airport also needs more space to accommodate modern security.
"The terminal was designed and built just prior to (Sept. 11, 2001),"
As a result, it was not made to handle new mandated screening procedures. The
security area is built to hold only about 60 people, but some flights hold 70
or more passengers. This leads to longer delays for passengers and makes it
more difficult for screeners to do their jobs.
He took his case to Yuma's state Sen. Amanda Aguirre and Rep. Lynne Pancrazi
last week, asking them to fight at the state Legislature to maintain airport
funding. He made another plea to the Yuma County Board of Supervisors during
its regular Monday meeting.
"If ADOT or the Legislature takes this money away, we're looking at a
shortfall of $2 million," Williams said. "Today those funds are
protected but the rules change."
ADOT will hold its Feb. 15 meeting in Yuma, at which Williams hopes to rally
support for the local airport.