As development around Chandler continues to take shape, city officials are examining how its airport might be able to better attract a different type of clientele.
A 2015 study showed the Chandler Municipal Airport generated an economic footprint worth about $32 million—a value that fell far short of the economic impact of regional airports in Mesa, Goodyear and Deer Valley.
But the city may try to change that.
Airport administrators hope they can broaden the airport’s uses by tapping into the market of business aviation—becoming the go-to stop for corporate executives needing places to land in the Valley.
“That really is the ultimate goal,” said Chris Andres, the city’s airport administrator.
In the past, Andres said, the airport has mainly served as a training facility for rookie pilots or a site for recreational flyers.
But now the city wants to diversify its portfolio, he said, by pursuing corporate flyers needing a runway to land their private jets.
Many airports are pursuing a similar business model as Chandler, Andres added, and strengthening the city’s airport could “turbo-charge” the local economy.
The Chandler City Council recently authorized staff to begin the 18-month process of updating the airport’s master strategic plan.
It’s a routine study that has to be done every few years to determine the airport’s infrastructure needs.
Andres said this study will additionally help the city examine where the aviation market industry is going and how the airport can prepare for the future.
Annual operations at the Chandler airport have been increasing in recent years.
According to the Chandler Airport Commission, operations recently increased from about 197,000 to 229,000 over a 12-month period.
The airport’s last master plan, done in 2010, highlighted how extending the facility’s runway could attract more corporate clients and boost the airport’s economic footprint.
According to the plan, if the runway was extended to 5,700 feet and more corporate flyers were to relocate to Chandler, then the airport’s economic output would increase 17 percent by 2025.
Chandler’s city code requires any runway extensions be funded through voter-approved bonds, as a means to allow residents to decide whether they want more air traffic in the community.
The city tried extending the airport’s south runway through a bond proposal in 2000 and again in 2007, but voters rejected the proposals both times.
Several years later, extending the runway continues to come up in planning discussions—most recently during a contentious City Council meeting last November that involved business development that might have encroached on future runway extensions.
The story of Chandler’s airport is almost a reflection of the city’s story.
It was founded in the late 1920s when Chandler’s economy was dominated by cattle ranches and cotton fields.
The Great Depression thwarted the airport’s development through the 1930s and World War II restricted civilian aviation through the 1940s.
The city officially opened its airport in 1948 after purchasing land near Germann and McQueen roads.
Farmers utilized its runway to fly crop dusters over fields of cotton and alfalfa for the next few decades.
The city continued acquiring more land for the airport in the 1980s as farm fields began disappearing and subdivisions started going up.
By 2010, the local population had grown exponentially and Chandler ranked high among general aviation airports for high air traffic.
Today, the airport is classified as one of six reliever airports in the Maricopa County that helps to alleviate traffic at Sky Harbor International Airport.
Lee McPheters, an Arizona State University economics professor, said Chandler’s airport has growth potential due to the recent development that’s occurred throughout the city.
But it will have to compete with well-established airports in the East Valley.
McPheters compiled a study recently, estimating Mesa’s Falcon Field Airport generated up to $434 million in direct economic output and several other nearby airports outperformed Chandler’s.
One way to assess an airport’s level of business aviation, McPheters noted, is tallying up the number of private jets it has stationed at its facility.
Scottsdale’s airport lists 137 jets, Deer Valley has 23, Falcon Field has eight, and Chandler listed two jets, according to records listed on AirNav.com.
Andres said the airport has the opportunity to seek out economic development that will benefit the facility.
It will continue servicing the recreational flyers and trainee pilots that the airport has always serviced, he said, because that’s always been the airport’s mission.
“We support the community and the community supports us,” Andres said.