The historic Douglas Municipal Airport must undergo several multimillion-dollar improvements if the City of Douglas does not want to miss out on economic growth opportunities.
Developing information on the airport’s conditions were announced during an Airport Master Plan Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting, held Jan. 23 at City Hall.
Nearly one year ago, the City of Douglas identified the airport’s conditions as a top priority and hired consultants, Kimley-Horn and Genesis, to build an airport master and business plan.
With a $180,000 contract, approved by the City, the consultants have been working with members of the PAC—regional stakeholders that were appointed by the City—to identify existing infrastructure, and future facility needs based on projected aviation activity.
In 2016, the Municipal Airport accounted for approximately 2,600 general aviation operations (departures and arrivals), reported Pam Keidel-Adams, Consultant, Kimley-Horn.
Keidel-Adams added that Arizona Lifeline—currently the airport’s sole tenant—conducts a majority of those operations.
At this rate, general aviation operations are projected to reach 3,580 by the year 2036.
“Not to say that it’s limited in any capacity, these numbers could double or triple,” said Colin Wheeler, Consultant, Kimley-Horn. “This is a little bit more on the conservative side…The impacts are going to be more on the facilities and the types of operations that are occurring.”
The PAC has identified numerous airside facility requirements, taking into account environmental implications, sustainability, and funding implications.
When combined, high-priority projects can total nearly $7 million.
Of these projects, the consultants have prioritized the rehabilitation, or reconstruction, of the airport’s runway and taxiway, which could cost between $750,000 and $3 million.
Other high priorities are the removal of mark/light obstacles, which includes vegetation and debris, a project that would cost an estimated $15,000; and the construction of a small passenger/pilot terminal, with a price tag that has yet to be determined.
These costs and more are a huge concern to stakeholders, as last year the State of Arizona pulled nearly $30 million from the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT’s) allocated aviation fund, which was swept to the state’s general fund.
Typically ADOT is responsible for grant-matching 10 percent of available funds for airport projects conducted across the state.
The likelihood of ADOT funding 90 percent of the Airport Master Plan is dismal, noted Andy Haratyk, PAC Member, City of Bisbee Public Works.
“Because of the sweep, ADOT is reluctant to fund more projects,” said Wheeler. “It looks like a trend that might continue in the future. There’s major impacts on all of the airports that are looking for those improvement funds.”
As the airport’s conditions decline, the City of Douglas risks losing projected growth opportunities, Wheeler added.
“Within the last couple of years there’s been an increase in jet activity which means more fuel sales,” Wheeler reported. “People have identified that they want to land at Douglas Municipal Airport, compared to other airports in the area because it’s convenient, it has self-fueling facilities, and the location compared to downtown and the border crossing are major advantages.”
With today’s conditions, the airport accounts for 16,000 gallons, or $70,000 of fuel sales per year.
Although financial constraints may not be something that’s encouraging from the State’s perspective, noted Wheeler, there is an advantage to absorb more of the occurring regional traffic.
That would mean more fuel sales and revenue, and potential expansion which could include additional tenants and fixed-base operators.
The clearing of the runways is one of the biggest concerns for pilots, said Angel Rodriguez, PAC Member, Pilot with Arizona Lifeline.
“We don’t deal only with the normal safety [precautions considering] distance, clearance, and wind speed, we also have civilian personnel running and incurring into the runways,” Rodriguez said. “By clearing the runways and expanding the horizontal distance coverage, we increase the visibility of potential runway incursions by civilians and animals.”
In addition to the master plan, the consultants will also develop a business plan.
“It’s important to point out here that you have some serious constraints in front of you,” said Richard Crossman, Business Plan Developer. “…These are standing directly in the way of the airport realizing it’s future business plans.”
The Airport Master Plan project team will meet for two more sessions this year, one PAC and one public meeting, to be held tentatively in April. At that time, the consultants will present their final recommendations and findings to the public, before the plan is submitted to ADOT Aeronautics for approval.