Remember when you could take a reliable and reasonably priced air shuttle from the Prescott Airport (PRC) to Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) or other western hub airports? As recently as 2007, a 76-seat turboprop aircraft operated from PRC to John Wayne airport in Orange County, CA, and an aircraft of this type could once again fly from PRC to destinations desired by the public in the near future. With regional cooperation from quad-city mayors and private partners, and with FAA/ADOT grants, the City of Prescott is laying the groundwork for major airport improvements including a new passenger terminal (approx. $6.0M) and main runway extension (approx. $15.0M). Not only will these improvements bring our airport into the 21st century with even better air service than in the past, it will also jump start major economic development in our quad cities.
Our airport is a diamond in the rough with untapped potential for increased commercial and general aviation, which in turn will bring major economic development to Prescott and the surrounding areas. A few flight operation statistics illustrate this point: With over 272,000 take-offs and landings last year, PRC is the 35th busiest airport in the nation and ranks 4th in general aviation activity. Of the 200 airports in the western U.S. recently reviewed by the FAA, Prescott was one of only two in Arizona approved for a runway incursion mitigation (safety) study. This illustrates the FAA’s high level of interest in PRC as a regionally beneficial airport. But most importantly, the airport complex is currently home to approximately 3,100 jobs in our community including: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, North-Aire Aviation, Guidance Aviation, Legend Aviation, Ruger, Cobham Aerospace, and Davidsons Industries, to name just a few.
The area mayors and I believe, despite the challenges of our public safety retirement system debt, it is feasible, through the use of Public/Private Partnerships (P3s), to expand and improve PRC. Participation by the County Board of Supervisors would round out regional cooperation in the P3 agreements. We easily envision the economic vitality and expanded tax base a vibrant airport would bring to our communities and local businesses. Case in point, the City of Flagstaff experienced a 65% increase in airport passengers within 7 years once the runway was extended and a new terminal was constructed. The City of Prescott has already made significant headway in the past year towards improving PRC. The Council approved matching funds necessary to secure major federal and state grants of nearly $8.0M for infrastructure improvements. In addition, the City recently received almost $2.0M in grants to prepare an updated Airport Master Plan, conduct an environmental assessment for a new passenger terminal, and design a comprehensive airport security upgrade. Information gathered through these grants will be the foundation from which formal plans for future action will emerge.
Development of the $1.0M Airport Master Plan (97% funded by FAA and ADOT grants) will be a public/private joint effort and will provide a broad, long-term framework for future aviation improvements and other anticipated requirements at the airport. Work on the plan will begin this fall with completion expected in approximately 18 months. Separate from the Master Plan but related, the City will begin working with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) to conduct an Airline Service Study with participants from business and public entities in the region. The purpose is to determine potential business and leisure air travel demands within the quad-city area. The data will be used to inform the master plan and entice airlines to provide commercial air service from Prescott to destinations such as Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City, or Las Vegas. Public input and support is vital to the success of both the Airport Master Plan and the Airline Study.
Along with improved air service, the completion of a new terminal and a longer runway will attract aviation support service businesses such as car rental companies, restaurants, hangar space and other service providers. Even more importantly, with greater air cargo capability, new and expanding businesses will look to start up or relocate in Prescott. This is especially true for those with links to technological fields taught at ERAU. Each year, with few opportunities here, superior ERAU grads leave Prescott to seek employment elsewhere. Continued collaboration between the City and ERAU will change that. With the development of a technology incubator project to attract industry in the fields of cyber security, drone technology, robotics, and intelligence and national security, jobs will be available for these grads. However, a critical component for success in this endeavor is an improved airport. Business executives must have convenient and reliable air service in order to commute and ship products. Without an improved airport, there is little possibility a CEO will choose to locate a business here.
Revitalizing our airport is undoubtedly a monumental undertaking. It can only be accomplished by forward thinking political leaders, committed public-private partners who see the great potential benefits to our community, and local residents who ultimately bring this vision to fruition. With input and support from the entire region, we can obtain a new scheduled air service and ultimately increase economic development for the entire quad-city area. PRC’s future is in our collective hands.