The Payson Regional Airport needs about $11 million in improvements to accommodate the near doubling of takeoffs and landings between now and 2028, according to a just completed Airport Master Plan.
Fortunately, the federal government will likely provide more than 80 percent of the needed money, concluded private consultants.
The consultants recently reported to the council that the airport needs a long and expensive list of upgrades. That includes money for longer runways, a relocated tax-way, new hangers, a terminal, a building for maintenance and snowplow storage, 70 acres of extra lands, runway lights and better signals for the small private plans that use the airport.
However, the changes could enable the airport to grow from the current 42,000 takeoffs and landings annually to about 70,000 by 2028.
One 1997 study suggested the pilots and passengers of the private and charter planes using the airport contribute $8 million in direct, indirect and induced benefits – including 132 jobs. Of those jobs, 49 come from providing direct services to the planes and passengers and 28 from the indirect benefits like money airport users spend on hotels and restaurants. The economists included a multiplier effect for the secondary spending generated by the first two categories – which adds 55 more jobs to the mix.
The town council listened quietly to the presentation of a plan that’s been years in the preparation, since it represented a federally required update of the last, 1999 master plan.
The report detailed $5.4 million in short-term development costs, including $700,000 in the local share.
The council silently absorbed that figure, having just spent nearly an hour agonizing about whether the town could come up with $17,000 to secure a $300,000 grant to upgrade a stretch of Main Street.
“Do you have any helpful thoughts on how in the world we could come up with that money?” asked Councilor Ed Blair.
Public Works Director LaRon Garrett hastened to reassure the council that airport users or developers would likely provide the money for the local matching share. “We hope for a public/private partnership,” said Garrett.
The town had planned to buy some land around the airport recently swapped with the US Forest Service, using mostly federal money. However, problems with the title on the land gave the town the opening to cancel that purchase as it slid into months of budget cuts and crisis. The plan to buy more land on the edge of the runway along a realigned Airport Road has been put on indefinite hold. However, the original plan called for the private, nonprofit Airport Authority to rent out that land to industrial, airport-related businesses then to use the lease payments to support operations.
The town used to operate the airport itself, but several years ago turned it over to a private group representing airport users. That move saved the town more than $100,000 annually, but gave the council less control over the details of the airport’s operation.
However, the town still remains legally responsible for the various Federal Aviation Administration grants that have paid for the bulk of the airport improvements. As a result, the town council has been renegotiating its relationship with the private airport authority to minimize its liability and monitor airport operations.
The town recently changed the general plan designation for several hundred acres of undeveloped land around the airport that had been swapped with the U.S. Forest Service. The council designated most of the land for either light industry or apartments.
The consultants said the longer runways and increased air traffic will significantly increase the noise footprint, but should not impinge too badly on the proposed residential zoning surrounding the airport.
“Noise levels do grow a little bit, but the majority – if not all – of the noise contours fall in the industrial zone,” said Matt Quick, with Coffman and Associates.
Some neighborhood advocates have questioned putting a big chunk of the town’s remaining apartment zoning close to airport flight paths – especially if the airport traffic will eventually double, possibly bringing in larger, corporate airplanes.
The consultant’s plan included a long list of projects, some seemingly related to the safety of airport operations – especially in bad weather. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) contributes heavily to the development of airports and will often pay 90 percent of certain improvements. The Arizona Department of Transportation often pays an additional 5 to 7 percent, leaving a relatively small, local share. Among the recommended projects:
• Extend one runway 600 feet west to a total length of 6,100 to accommodate larger aircraft.
• Move the taxiway alongside that runway 90 feet south to comply with FAA rules.
• Install better lighting at the end of the runway for night and bad weather operations.
• Upgrade the rotating beacon.
• Install pavement edge lights on taxiways.