|PLANE TALK ON MUNICIPAL AIRPORTS|
|Deirdre Hamill/The Arizona Republic|
|As East Valley takes off, so does busy Falcon Field|
|Ronda Schnoor, air traffic controller, talks with a pilot and monitors the radar at Falcon Field. In March, the Mesa airport ranked third in the nation for the number of general aviation aircraft with 922 based there.|
| By Betty Beard
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 06, 2001
|Mike Braegger, a Gilbert dentist who flies as a hobby, has been on a waiting list since 1993 to rent one of the 116 hangars at the Chandler Municipal Airport.
"I moved from number 86 to 14, and I will probably be on the list another two years," Braegger said. "That's ridiculous when there's land to build down there."
Pilots also have to wait years to rent one of the 400 hangar spaces at Falcon Field in Mesa.
While residents might think the region has enough airports and airplanes, it appears general aviation business - non-military and non-commercial flying - will only grow in the Valley.
In March, Falcon Field, a Mesa municipal airport, ranked third in the country for the number of general aviation aircraft based at the field with 922 at the time. Deer Valley-Phoenix Municipal Airport ranked first with 1,210. An airport in Chino, Calif., was second.
The Maricopa Association of Governments is in the midst of updating a 1992 study that concluded another aviation airport might be needed near Apache Junction, in addition to Falcon Field and Chandler's airport.
Williams Gateway Airport is operated by Mesa, Gilbert, Gila River Indian Community and Queen Creek. It opened on the site of the former Williams Air Force Base after the study was completed. It now has its own growing share of the general aviation business.
But you don't need a study to see the signs of the boom.
• The Pegasus Airpark in Queen Creek is under construction. It is the second privately owned airstrip and residential airpark in the East Valley. Pilots can buy a home with a hangar in the back yard, connected to the private runway. So far, 13 of the 49 Pegasus lots have been sold at $150,000 to $165,000 each.
"It's becoming more popular to be able to fly onto a runway and taxi into your home. It's becoming a trend," said Kimberly Lewis, a Realtor selling lots at Stellar Airpark in Chandler About three-fourths of the 65 Stellar lots have been sold since last June at prices from $361,500 to $487,000 for the lots and houses.
• Falcon Field leads the southeast Valley in the number of operations - arrivals and departures totaled - with almost 275,000 last year.
Chandler had about 250,400. There were 158,500 arrivals and departures at Williams Gateway, which also includes some military planes. In comparison, there were 636,848 aircraft landings and takeoffs at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport last year.
The airport also has a six-month-old $4 million terminal and a marketing person, Marie Frank, who is working full time to try to land passenger service. So far, Frank has been unsuccessful.
• Chandler has twice tried to sell voters on bond issues to improve its airport, in 1989 and again last year. But voters turned them down.
Krista Collins, 41, is a Chandler housewife who helped defeat last year's effort. Collins said residents are sending the message.
"They get in there and start legacy building and not looking out for the people," she said. "It's about political paybacks."
Residents near Williams have been persistently complaining about airplane noise, especially military training jets. They are fighting efforts to turn the former Air Force base into a passenger airport.
But these opponents may not realize how many jobs airports support, said Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant in Evergreen, Colo.
That's about 17,000 jobs at Falcon Field, 2,500 at Williams Gateway and 250 at Chandler, according to the airports.
All three airports have their own control towers, operated by private contractors under the overall supervision of the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Many people think these are just for dentists to go fly their toys on weekends," Boyd said. "Airports are tremendously important for economic well-being, especially for sprawl."
Airport officials say the East Valley can support three general aviation airports because they are at least 10 miles apart from each other and easy to use compared with increasingly congested Sky Harbor. They attract flight students, hobbyists and business people.
"People who don't have time to go to Sky Harbor or Falcon Field just fly in here, get in their limos and go," said Greg Chenoweth, manager of the Chandler airport.
Falcon Field features a laid-back atmosphere that includes a swimming pool and two restaurants. It's designed like an air mall, letting pilots taxi from hangar, to pool to restaurant.
"You could spend a complete day in your airplane and never lift off the runway and have a great old day," said Mark Meyers, airport manager.
Pegasus Airpark lot prices range from $95,000 to $170,000, not as stated below.
The $95,000 lots were sold out in 2002.