By Wayne Schutsky
Scottsdale Airport appears to have escaped the worst impacts of the coronavirus with construction and operations booming in spite of the pandemic’s negative impact on the airline industry as a whole.
The airport’s operations initially took a dip in March and April due to COVID-19, dropping 6%t compared to 2019, according to flight data from the Federal Aviation Administration.
But that data shows activity recovered in the following months and the airport is now on track to surpass 2019 activity this year.
Overall, between January 1 and October 31, Scottsdale Airport has seen nearly 82,000 total flights, a 4% increase over the same time period in 2019.
“It is highly likely that our airport operations and based aircraft numbers will exceed last year’s numbers,” says Scottsdale airport spokeswoman Sarah Ferrara.
According to numbers provided by the airport, there are 455 aircraft based at Scottsdale Airport, up from 442 in 2019.
The number of aircraft visiting the airport between September and November—excluding those based in Scottsdale—was also up by just about 1% this year compared to 2019, though those numbers were buoyed by a strong September.
Visiting aircraft were actually down by 929 flights, or 5%, in October and November.
The overall increase in flights in Scottsdale comes as activity at all airports nationwide was down 23% from January through October, according to the FAA.
Ferrara says Scottsdale Airport’s success is likely due to its chartered flights, which have seen a rise in popularity lately.
As a general aviation airport, Scottsdale Airport does not host commercial airlines, which have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
“So, in our opinion, we think that people, especially with some of the impact of some of the pandemic, are starting to use more charter operations and maybe even up their use of business aviation, which is pretty much our bread and butter,” Ferrara says.
That is backed by the experience of charter operators at the airport.
“The first couple of weeks in the pandemic, we were extremely busy moving people where they had to go…then in April and May we were very, very slow,” says Ken Casey, director of sales and acquisitions with Pinnacle Aviation, a Scottsdale-based company that offers charter and management services.
“We weren’t doing hardly any business because nobody was going anywhere.”
But Casey says activity started to recover in June.
“We became definitely very busy…a majority of the people who want to do whatever they can not to get on the airlines, not to be exposed, not to go through the whole airport process and risk infection,” Casey says.
The airport could become even busier as it welcomes a third fixed-base operator, or FBO, to Scottsdale.
In 2019, Jet Aviation acquired a stake in Scottsdale Jet Center, which had taken over leases at the airport in 2018.
Approved by the council in December 2018, that deal included plans to redevelop a portion of the site and open an FBO at the airport.
Jet Aviation announced its new hangar terminal opened for business in December.
The Jet Aviation project is just one of several major construction projects that has popped up in and around the airport in recent years.
The airport reported that a mixture of private and public projects has generated more than $92 million in direct construction costs since 2017.
“This is the most construction activity I have seen at the airport and Airpark since 2000 and 2001,” says Scottsdale Aviation Director Gary Mascaro.
That includes the $27 million Business Aviation Center building the city opened in 2018 and three separate private hangar projects valued at around $23 million, Ferrara says.
Scottsdale Airport is also in the process of building up to 14 new box hangars on site.
Phase one of construction, which will include seven hangars, was approved by city council in March at a cost of $4.1 million.
The city council approved six leases for seven of the new hangars in June 2019, and the revenues generated by those leases over the next 20 years will cover the cost of construction, according to the city.