Flying gave Beth Myers everything — then took it away. Now, she’s giving everything to flying.
Payson’s new airport manager says flying has dominated her life from the moment she took a ride in a small plane at the age of 17.
She met her husband and the love of her life when he signed up for flying lessons at the small airport at which she worked — and then lost him in a crash at an air show.
On the day of his funeral — heartbroken — she went flying.
“I realized I could not lose both of the great loves of my life,” she said.
Myers, 55, has flown small planes for 38 years and worked for a time as an air traffic controller. She also worked for 28 years as a real estate agent to make ends meet.
Now, suddenly — it has all come together with her new job as the full-time operations manager for the Payson Airport. She faces more challenges than a single-engine pilot in a monsoon storm — with the airport authority seeking federal funding for a $10 million master plan that could transform the small-town airport on a mesa top overlooking Payson.
“We’re going to have to keep Payson in the forefront of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) to achieve funding. It is going to happen: It’s just a matter of time — although realistically, we’re about two years away from moving dirt out here.”
Myers’ arrival gives the airport a paid manager for the first time since Payson spun off airport operations to the airport authority to reduce costs.
Myers is being paid $25,000 annually during her three months probationary period, financed through airport revenues like tie-down fees for planes based at the airport. The airport’s budget under the authority remains just a fraction of what the town paid to run it, thanks to the authority’s extensive use of volunteers for everything from plowing snow off the runway to chasing elk off the tarmac.
The airport authority hopes to get state and federal grants to pay for an ambitious list of improvements, starting with a required project to provide an additional 90-foot-wide strip of taxiway to safely separate the runway from the lane in which planes move to the end of the runway for takeoff. The FAA will pay the bulk of that cost, which will require the airport authority to relocate the restaurant and other facilities as well.
Myers will juggle all those grants and improvements in addition to day-to-day operations and special events — like the Oct. 2 Young Eagles event, during which teenagers can come to the airport to get free airplane rides and learn about careers in aviation.
She’ll also ride herd on the airport’s expansion and the impact of new development once building resumes. The town council recently approved a zone change for the land around the airport that will eventually give the airport potentially problematic new neighbors — from light industry to apartment units.
Late last year, the airport authority won the Payson Town Council’s approval of its master plan. The plan’s intention is to enable the airport to accommodate a projected 50 percent increase in takeoffs and landings in the next five to 10 years.
Currently, the small airport accommodates 40,000 takeoffs and landings annually and serves as the home base for 100 planes — the owners of which pay hangar or tie-down fees.
A 2002 ADOT study estimated that the airport interjects $20 million into the local economy annually. The airport directly supports about 62 jobs and indirectly generates another 68 jobs, according to the ADOT study.
The expansion would enable the airport to accommodate 66,000 landings and provide a home base for 140 planes.
The master plan also includes a new restaurant that will include tables with arguably the best view in Payson, not to mention more rentable hangars and improved facilities for medical helicopters and firefighting planes and helicopters deployed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Myers served on the airport authority board during the 10 years she operated her own real estate business in Payson, before moving to Fountain Hills to care for her ailing mother. After the death of her mother, she learned of the airport authority’s need for a full-time airport manager.
“I couldn’t resist,” she said.
She said flying has shaped her life.
She wanted to become a commercial pilot, but she’s only 5 feet tall and when she learned to fly, the airlines wouldn’t hire anyone shorter than 5-foot 2-inches tall. So she flew privately and worked at airports.
That’s where she met her husband, who learned to fly at the small Connecticut airport were she worked. On his first solo flight, the engine died — and he made an emergency landing.
She ran out to his plane.
“He didn’t have a scratch on the plane. He couldn’t believe it had happened to him. I greeted him at the plane and he was just laughing hysterically. I said ‘you need a drink.’ And that was our first date.”
She lost him 25 years ago, during an air show at an airport in Colorado she had labored mightily to develop. He was taking a passenger up for a ride when a vicious microburst blew out of nowhere and smashed his plane into the ground. He was killed, his passenger blinded.
“That was Saturday — by Tuesday, the day of his funeral — I realized I just had to fly again. It was such a shared passion for us.”
She also had a job for three years as an air traffic controller for the FAA, which she loved.
However, she worked during the infamous strike in the early 1980s and so suffered great strains and trauma as the strikers tried to keep people from filling their slots. Her tires were slashed — her dog was poisoned.
She later went into real estate, flying on the side and participating fully in the tight fraternity of small-plane pilots — who become instant friends, with plenty of stories to tell. She lost an engine once — and landed with a dead stick in a farmer’s field. She became fast friends with the couple who owned the farm.
“You have all these experiences that are absolutely unique to aviation: If you don’t fly, you just don’t understand.”
So now she watches protectively over the Payson Airport, inspecting the runway every morning to remove any debris and chase off any elk that have jumped the fence. Then she attends to the hundred daily details, sticking close by the radio to answer the questions of incoming pilots and augmenting the bulletins of the continuously broadcast weather channel tailored to conditions at the airport — from runway temperatures to crosswinds.
“I just love it,” said Myers, “I love it all.”
Youth can fly free Saturday
Youngsters age 8-17 will have an opportunity to fly for free at the Payson Airport Saturday, Oct 2, from 7:30 a.m to 11:30 a.m.
This year, in addition to the free introductory flights and gifts for all the kids (T-shirts, charts, aviation gifts), teens age 13 to 17 will receive a pilot log book and online access to a free private pilot ground school training course worth over $200, organizers say.
The course is provided by the Experimental Aircraft Association and Sporty’s Pilot Shop to encourage young people to learn about careers in aviation.
Meet Jeff Skiles, the first officer who helped ditch the US Airways plane in the Hudson River and saved the lives of 155 people.
He is looking forward to talking to the young people of Payson. Parent permission is required. For more information, call (928) 978-5139.