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"Plane Talk on Arizona's Municipal Airports"

Thursday, September 6, 2001

City's field is gripped by growth
By Betty Beard
The Arizona Republic

Mike Braegger, a Gilbert dentist who flies as a hobby, has been on a
waiting list since 1993 to rent one of the 116 hangars at the Chandler
Municipal Airport.

"I moved from number 86 to 14, and I will probably be on the list
another two years," Braegger said. "That's ridiculous when there's land
to build down there."

Pilots also have to wait years to rent one of the 400 hangar spaces at
Falcon Field in Mesa.

While residents might think the region has enough airports and
airplanes, it appears general aviation business - non-military and
non-commercial flying - will only grow in the Valley.

In March, Falcon Field, a Mesa municipal airport, ranked third in the
country for the number of general aviation aircraft based at the field
with 922 at the time. Deer Valley-Phoenix Municipal Airport ranked first
with 1,210. An airport in Chino, Calif., was second.

The Maricopa Association of Governments is in the midst of updating a
1992 study that concluded another aviation airport might be needed near
Apache Junction, in addition to Falcon Field and Chandler's airport. 

Williams Gateway Airport is operated by Mesa, Gilbert, Gila River Indian
Community and Queen Creek. It opened on the site of the former Williams
Air Force Base after the study was completed. It now has its own growing
share of the general aviation business. 

But you don't need a study to see the signs of the boom.

. The Pegasus Airpark in Queen Creek is under construction. It is the
second privately owned airstrip and residential airpark in the East
Valley. Pilots can buy a home with a hangar in the back yard, connected
to the private runway. So far, 13 of the 49 Pegasus lots have been sold
at $150,000 to $165,000 each.

"It's becoming more popular to be able to fly onto a runway and taxi
into your home. It's becoming a trend," said Kimberly Lewis, a Realtor
selling lots at Stellar Airpark in Chandler About three-fourths of the
65 Stellar lots have been sold since last June at prices from $361,500
to $487,000 for the lots and houses.

. Falcon Field leads the southeast Valley in the number of operations -
arrivals and departures totaled - with almost 275,000 last year.

Chandler had about 250,400. There were 158,500 arrivals and departures
at Williams Gateway, which also includes some military planes. In
comparison, there were 636,848 aircraft landings and takeoffs at Phoenix
Sky Harbor International Airport last year. 

The airport also has a six-month-old $4 million terminal and a marketing
person, Marie Frank, who is working full time to try to land passenger
service. So far, Frank has been unsuccessful.

. Chandler has twice tried to sell voters on bond issues to improve its
airport, in 1989 and again last year. But voters turned them down. 

Krista Collins, 41, is a Chandler housewife who helped defeat last
year's effort. Collins said residents are sending the message that they
don't want the airport to grow and that they don't buy the argument that
airports are needed for economic development.

"They get in there and start legacy building and not looking out for the
people," she said. "It's about political paybacks."

Residents near Williams have been persistently complaining about
airplane noise, especially military training jets. They are fighting
efforts to turn the former Air Force base into a passenger airport.

But these opponents may not realize how many jobs airports support, said
Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant in Evergreen, Colo.

That's about 17,000 jobs at Falcon Field, 2,500 at Williams Gateway and
250 at Chandler, according to the airports. All three airports have
their own control towers, operated by private contractors under the
overall supervision of the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Many people think these are just for dentists to go fly their toys on
weekends," Boyd said. "Airports are tremendously important for economic
well-being, especially for sprawl."

Airport officials say the East Valley can support three general aviation
airports because they are at least 10 miles apart from each other and
easy to use compared with increasingly congested Sky Harbor. They
attract flight students, hobbyists and business people.

"People who don't have time to go to Sky Harbor or Falcon Field just fly
in here, get in their limos and go," said Greg Chenoweth, manager of the
Chandler airport.

Falcon Field features a laid-back atmosphere that includes a swimming
pool and two restaurants. It's designed like an air mall, letting pilots
taxi from hangar, to pool to restaurant.

"You could spend a complete day in your airplane and never lift off the
runway and have a great old day," said Mark Meyers, airport manager.

Attached Photo:

Maintaining visual contact. Air traffic control specialist Jack Piraino
uses binoculars to look for a plane arriving at Chandler Municipal
Airport. Controllers do not have radar, so they rely on visual
confirmation. The airport had about 250,400 arrivals.


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