Payson Airport Lease Underscores Control



Andy Towle/Roundup -

Planes were lined up and taking off with first-time young fliers Saturday at Payson Airport. As fast as pilots and their support crew could line up planes for pictures and take off with their charges, they did. These flights are offered free of charge and are made possible through the generosity of Experimental Aircraft Association member volunteers.


Andy Towle/Roundup -

Paul Pitkin gives Matthew Edwards a little pre-flight instruction on a two-seater Taylor Craft training plane before takeoff. The EAA Young Eagles program was launched in 1992 to give interested young people, ages 8-17, an opportunity to go flying in a general aviation airplane.

Let’s just be clear guys —Payson owns everything.

That’s the gist of changes in the lease of the town-owned airport, up for council approval on Thursday.

The proposed changes in the lease agreement with the Payson Regional Airport Authority come as the mostly volunteer board that runs the airport puts the final touches on a $10-million master plan. The plan will use federal money to shift a taxiway, acquire land for lease to airport-related businesses, upgrade a fly-in campground and add more hangars, a new restaurant and a terminal, complete with community and business meeting space.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should pay for more than 90 percent of the proposed improvements, providing Congress ever actually approves the FAA’s latest spending plan.

The town turned management of the airport over to the airport authority several years ago, saving itself about $100,000 in staff costs annually.

However, the town retains ownership of the airport land and all its facilities. Moreover, the FAA grants actually go to the town, which means legal responsibility for the airport and for complying with the terms of the grant rests with the town.

The town and the airport authority have been refining their relationship for the past two years, seeking the right balance between delegation and oversight.

The latest lease agreement underscores the town’s continued ownership of all airport facilities, including any additions or modifications.

The five-year, $10-million master plan is intended to accommodate a projected 50-percent increase in airport operations.

The Payson Airport currently pumps an estimated $20 million annually into the regional economy. Direct and indirect spending spurred by airport operations generates more than 120 jobs, according to a 2002 study by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

The airport handles about 40,000 takeoffs and landings and serves as home base for 100 planes, says the airport master plan.

The proposed expansion will enable the airport to handle a projected 66,000 takeoffs and landings by 2028.

The council will vote on the modified lease Thursday at its regular council meeting, which starts at 5:30 at Town Hall.


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