Chandler, Mesa Gateway, Sky Harbor Officials Discuss Aviation Impact on AZ Economy
March 30, 2013
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  • By Daniel Quigley

    The importance of air travel to her community – and the state – is not lost on Lori Quan.

    “Think of how intensely dependent we are on airports,” explained Quan, airport administrator at Chandler Municipal Airport. “It was the advent of air travel that really got us connected” more than even the Internet.

    Quan’s remarks came as part of a panel discussion Wednesday featuring local aviation officials from Chandler Municipal, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway, And Phoenix Sky Harbor International airports. The discussion was presented by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce as part of its monthly “Economic Update” luncheon. The theme of this month’s gathering was to demonstrate the economic impact and poise for development of the aviation industry — not only at those three airports that connect East Valley travelers and commerce, but across the entire state.

    Quan said the aviation industry accounts for $58 billion in economic activity annually, citing an Arizona Department of Transportation report released in January.

    Quan also pointed out that nearly 17 percent of all jobs in the state are connected to aviation.

    General aviation airports, like the three where the speakers work, alone, account for $609 million in economic output and 6,900 jobs, she said.

    Chandler Municipal, Quan said, is growing and poised for even more development and growth, though she joked with the crowd how when others hear “airport,” even down the street from it, they immediately think of Sky Harbor or Gateway.

    But with about 400 aircraft based at the city-owned airport in 2012, Quan said the airport saw more than 197,000 combined landings and takeoffs last year — and increase of 20 percent over 2011.

    That number is almost 40,000 more than nearby Gateway saw in 2012, and puts Chandler among the 45 Busiest Airports in the U.S.

    Both Gateway and Chandler municipal are two of eight Arizona airports designated as “reliever” airports for Sky Harbor. Their officials both said large pieces of undeveloped land will create a generation of potential growth.

    Quan said that once it’s built out, Chandler’s airport would include more than 28 million square feet of non-residential space and account for 30,000 jobs.

    Quan and her counterpart on the panel from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport agreed that the theme for both East Valley sites continues to center on growth potential.

    John Barry, Gateway’s manager of commercial passenger and cargo service development, pointed out the importance of reliever airports to a metropolitan area like the Valley. He said Gateway can relieve drive times for passengers and that parking rates are cheaper at his airport.

    “The Phoenix metro area (was) the single-largest metro area in the entire country that did not have a secondary airport,” he said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do — give people another option.”

    He said Gateway-based carriers Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier fly to a combined 40 cities in the U.S. and he hopes that the airport will announce at least one more carrier by the end of the year.

    He added that a ninth and 10th gate would be completed by then.

    For the state’s largest airport, this week’s Chandler Chamber panel was a chance for spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez to tout some of Sky Harbor’s massive figures in terms service and additions, as well as redevelopment.

    The airport serves nearly 40 million passengers each year.

    “A little over 100,000 passengers come through Sky Harbor each day,” Rodriguez said.

    She pointed out that the airport’s $29 billion impact on the state, citing an Arizona State University study, is down from about five years ago due to the recession.

    “The Phoenix airport system is the largest economic engine in the state of Arizona,” Rodriguez said.

    The airport, which employs 43,000 on its property, moves 800 tons of cargo daily — a number that has risen despite the recession, she said.

    “One of the reasons is all the online shopping,” Rodriguez said. “We have Amazon and companies like that shipping a lot of cargo out of the Phoenix area, so that is very good economic news.”

    Rodriguez also talked about the new PHX Sky Train, a makeover of the food and beverage offerings, and several amenities added for extra comfort, including padded chairs with Internet hookups and outlets. The first leg of the sky train, connecting Metro Light Rail traffic and those who use the East Economy parking area to Terminal 4, is scheduled to open April 8, with full service to all terminals expected by 2015.

    Quan, Rodriguez and Barry also discussed the recent $11 billion merger between Tempe-based US Airways and American Airlines. The move makes the new firm the world’s largest airline in terms of passenger traffic, and the panel addressed questions about how it might affect the Valley’s aviation industry.

    Rodriguez said it could open up more international routes to Phoenix passengers, and from Chandler’s perspective, Quan said that could be beneficial to private travelers who have more options of how to get to the smaller airport.

    Added Barry: “From a reliever’s standpoint … we see a lot of route consolidations, as well … and when those occur a lot of times it opens up opportunities for other airlines to come in and pick up the slack where some of that service had been consolidated.”

    But Barry said the main concern is the effects the consolidation can have on prices.

    “The jury’s still out on that,” he said.