Airport Cuts Costs, Plans For The Future

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The Payson Airport needs a new restaurant, meeting space and other facilities included in a master plan in order to boost the region’s economy — without cost to taxpayers, says Dick Mumma, president of the Payson Regional Airport Authority.

“The bottom line is that by using a lot of volunteer help, we’re saving the town $125,000 a year — thanks to a powerful spirit of cooperation,” Mumma recently told people gathered at a Concerned Citizens meeting.

Volunteers — mostly pilots and their families — already mow the grounds, run the snow plow, maintain the landing lights and whack the weeds, Mumma said.

The airport leases a trailer to the private group that runs Crosswinds Restaurant, which caters to the 400 to 500 pilots a year who land at the airport — plus the people who live nearby, keep their planes alongside the field or in the hanger and other people who use the facilities. Currently, all the airport’s hanger space is leased.

“The restaurant is way too small – we want to build a real building with outside decks for airplane watching and meeting rooms and a pilot’s lounge. That’s a dream right now,” but realizing that dream could take five years,” said the former Vietnam War fighter jet combat veteran.

The town turned the airport over to the Airport Authority several years ago, hoping to reduce the need for town staffing. The Airport Authority cut operating costs substantially by doing without a paid director and turning most maintenance tasks over to volunteers.

The authority raises money through a variety of events, including the Payson Aero Fair in May in conjunction with the Spring Rodeo, which features booths, airplane rides and a display of classic cars.

Mumma said the airport yields a significant economic advantage to the town. Already, the airport serves the community by attracting residents who own planes and visitors, including many who stay at the campground on airport grounds.

In addition, the airport provides a safe place for medical flights and for the staging of fire fighting planes and helicopters. The airport also gets frequent landings from pilots training at a flight training college in Prescott.

The airport charges no landing fees and Mumma said it would lose a lot of traffic to other fields in the area if the authority attempted to impose a fee – even assuming the fee would generate more revenue that it would cost to try to collect.

Mumma noted that the airport authority has been working to fix problems raised by the FAA after a 2004 inspection, made at the town’s invitation.

“I think no one told the town the key point that you don’t want to ask the federal government to come and inspect you,” joked Mumma.

The inspectors concluded that too many people had access to the gate key on the airport’s fence, one of five key items listed for correction.

“They said there were kids on tricycles” on the runway, “which may have been an exaggeration,” said Mumma.

So the airport authority changed to a system in which airplane owners and airport workers and volunteers had keycard access through the gate, which solved most of the problems.

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