Payson got overall approval this week for its ambitious, $10 million, five-year plan to expand the airport — mostly with hoped-for federal money.
Although the plan still depends on congressional approval of the FAA’s budget due in November, the changes would move the taxiway to accommodate larger planes, pay for a terminal and restaurant and lay the groundwork for a 50 percent increase in landings and an expansion of airport-related business.
Payson Regional Airport Authority President Jon Barber previewed the plan Thursday at the Business Buzz luncheon jointly sponsored by the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation.
Officials from the Payson Regional Airport Authority, the town and the Arizona Department of Transportation met Tuesday to go over the plans for the expansion, intended to both improve safety and accommodate airport-related businesses.
The FAA would pay 95 percent of the cost, with another $250,000 from ADOT and $250,000 from Payson, spread out over five years. A portion of Payson’s matching amount would come from revenue generated by airport operations, said Barber.
The state and federal officials reportedly liked what they heard.
“We laid it all out and we never got a hint of ‘maybe we don’t want to do that.’ It was all ‘looks good, that’s what we want to do,’” said Barber.
Now local airport planners will have to hope that Congress actually funds the FAA. The federal budget problems earlier this year prompted Congress to merely extend the FAA budget to next month without fully funding future plans. The FAA has now requested enough money to make commitments on a host of projects nationwide, said Barber.
“But at least we’re all on the same page, with all four of us sitting down on Tuesday together in one place to develop a logical, doable time frame on getting this all accomplished.”
The Payson airport pumps more than $20 million annually into the local economy, according to a 2002 ADOT study cited in the airport’s recently completed master plan.
The Payson airport has about 40,000 takeoffs and landings annually and serves as the home base for 100 private planes. The airport also provides a landing spot for nightly commercial flights that handle overnight parcels and many bank and other documents.
The airport also provides landing sites and maintenance for medical helicopters and firefighting helicopters, said Barber.
That generates about 62 jobs with a direct payroll of $2.3 million and sales of more than $5 million. Spending by pilots and passengers generates another 68 jobs and $3.3 million in sales. The multiplier effect of those direct jobs boosted the economic impact to $20 million, according to the 2002 ADOT study.
The proposed expansion would enable the airport to accommodate the 66,000 takeoffs and landings projected by 2028, when planners expect the airport to serve as home base for 140 planes.
The FAA cited safety concerns in wanting to move the taxiway further from the runway to accommodate jets and larger planes. That required shifting Airport Road, which created land the town and the airport authority could lease to airport-related businesses.
Payson plans to buy 13.5 acres, mostly with federal funds. The town would then lease the land to businesses to generate money to fund airport operations. That land purchase is for the moment on hold, awaiting the guarantee the FAA will pay the bulk of the cost.
The master plan calls for the shift in the taxiway, construction of new hangars and other aircraft handling facilities and the construction of a terminal, complete with a new restaurant.
Currently a small restaurant with a great view operates out of a couple of cramped and outdated portable buildings. The master plan envisions a larger, permanent restaurant with some of the best views in town, located in a terminal with meeting facilities, said Barber.
Already, some airport businesses have reported strong growth — despite the impact of the recession.
Barber noted that the Against the Wind maintenance shop has reported a 150 percent increase in sales over the past year. By contrast, overall sales tax receipts in town have dropped 10 to 20 percent over last year.
“Airports are a vital link in the transportation system,” said Barber. “There are so many ways in which the airport benefits the community that people just don’t realize,” said Barber.