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"Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport focuses on growth"
Friday, March 23, 2012
Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport focuses on growth
Mesa airport board OKs review of air-traffic-control tower for updates
By Art Thomason
The Arizona Republic
Over the past three years, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport officials have
grappled with a virtually endless agenda of needs to accommodate growth.
Now, the tallest item on that list is finally getting attention because it
isn't big enough.
"Expansion of the existing air-traffic-control tower is not a question of
if, but when," Bill Mitchell, the airport's director of operations and
maintenance, said in a memo Monday to the airport's governing board.
The memo was written in support of a recommendation by airport Executive
Director Lynn Kusy to conduct a structural analysis of the 41-year-old tower
to determine if it can sustain expansion.
The airport's governing board Monday approved the proposal that architects
review the tower's foundation and other infrastructure to find out if it can
support replacement of its loftiest feature -- the hexagon-shape cab that
houses air-traffic controllers and the equipment they use.
DWL Architects and Planners Inc. of Phoenix will be awarded up to $79,924 to
do the review and determine if it is cost-effective to execute such a
"The tower manager has been asking that the airport look into that
possibility for the last four or five years," airport spokesman Brian Sexton
said before the board meeting. "The request is based on needs for an
increased staff to manage the complex airspace."
The Federal Aviation Administration would fund more than 90 percent of
tower-expansion costs, and airport officials are hoping they will not be
affected by Obama administration proposals to reduce tower-program funding.
The tower is the second that was built for the airport's predecessor,
Williams Air Force Base, which opened in 1941 as the U.S. began training
pilots for World War II.
The original tower, which was appended to the top of a fire station, was
demolished decades ago.
The existing tower was constructed as pilot training continued during the
Vietnam War, and it is structurally outdated to handle air controllers'
needs, Sexton said.
As an example, officials said air-traffic controllers must use a ladderlike
stairwell for access to the cab and to restrooms. The tower's elevator
extends only to the floor below the cab where the tower's only restrooms are
The tower is operated by Serco Inc., an international services company based
in Reston, Va., under an FAA-approved contract.
It is the busiest of the nation's 248 contract towers and the 62nd busiest
contract towerworldwide, Mitchell said.
Contractor-operated towers, which were started in 1982 by the FAA, are used
at smaller airports where visual flight rules are the norm. At major
airports, FAA tower personnel take more control in directing flights
approaching and leaving the airports.
After the base was decommissioned in 1993, the airfield, its buildings and
the tower were turned over to the now-five-member Phoenix-Mesa Gateway
Airport Authority that owns and operates Gateway.
Airport officials have not determined whether a new tower will have to be
built when the airport eventually moves its passenger operations from its
western side to a location near its eastern border.
The airport is undergoing its third passenger-terminal expansion within the
past three years as its rapid growth as a reliever airport and jobs center
In a report to the governing board on Monday, Fred Kaplan, Gateway's chief
financial officer, estimated a 32 percent increase in the number of
passengers over the next 15 months.
Nearly 1.6 million passenger arrivals and departures are anticipated between
July 1 and the end of June 2013, he said.
The forecast is based on growth predictions by Gateway's two carriers,
Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines.
Florida-based Spirit, which started flying to Las Vegas from Gateway on Feb.
9, became the airport's second carrier to provide regularly scheduled
Spirit began flights Thursday to Dallas-Fort Worth and is expected to add
destinations after it settles in.
Gateway is one of Spirit's 49 destinations, and Allegiant serves 77 cities.
Both are among the fastest-growing U.S. airlines, according to
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