Scottsdale Airport into the Future

Scottsdale Airport into the Future

A sneak peek at the Scottsdale Airport Master Plan that will be presented to the Scottsdale City Council

By Lee Allen

According to one old adage, patience is a virtue. To which Aristotle added, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

That sweet fruit—in the form of the long-awaited Scottsdale Airport Master Plan—is ripe and ready to be picked. A final draft version of the proactive document that identifies and plans for future facility needs will be presented at the Scottsdale City Council meeting on May 12.

Revisions to the plan have been in process since updating began in 2012 when Coffman Associates, which did the airport’s last master plan in 1997, was tapped to update the guidebook. Initially slated to take 18 months to allow time for agency reviews and FAA approvals, dates became secondary to details of the procedure to identify and plan for future facility needs.

Getting all the answers took more time than anticipated.

“One of the main factors involved was an environmental assessment requested by the City of Scottsdale concerning runway ability to accommodate heavier aircraft,” said Sarah Ferrara, planning and outreach coordinator for the 71-year-old facility.

“In the end, it was determined we weren’t going to pursue the strengthening of the runway (at 8,250 feet long, the length of nearly two dozen football fields). We can accommodate these aircraft on a case-by-case basis and we only get about 10 aircraft in the 100,000-pound category per year, so the FAA agreed with us that we could monitor and track request use and see how the pavement holds up, keeping this one for a separate future item.”

The plan as envisioned “focuses on several key areas including aviation forecasts, demand and capacity, facility requirements, airfield design and safety standards, development alternatives and environmental reviews,” according to Jan Horne, public information officer for the City of Scottsdale Communications Office.

Jim Harris, president of Coffman Associates, served as principal-in-charge of the third master plan his company has done for Scottsdale. “The process has been a lengthy one with lots of input and public workshops before it went before the airport commission,” Harris said. “It’s been vetted fairly well.”

Asked if his firm found anything unusual in preparing the plan, Harris did note the uniqueness involved with the airport having through-the-fence access to the airpark, a relationship that presented different aspects to be considered. Like the parcels of privately owned property that have taxiway access to the airport—not technically a part of it, but with the ability to utilize it.

“There’s a synergy between the linkage of the community and the employment base around the airport that involves a common bond in economic development,” Harris said. “With a sound and realistic master plan, Scottsdale Airport can maintain its link to the national air transportation for the community and maintain existing public and private investments in its facilities.”

Scottsdale Airport itself contributed less than 5 percent of the $400,000 master plan cost, which was mostly paid for by grant-in-aid assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Categorizing the site as “one of the biggest corporate jet facilities,” Ferrara noted: “The Scottsdale Airport is more than just another congestion relief runway for Phoenix Sky Harbor International—it facilitates commerce and travel, improves quality of life, and is a catalyst for economic growth through job creation and income generation.”

Takeoff and landing figures fluctuate year-to-year and depending on a myriad of economic factors, ranging from 150,000-plus in recent years up to the 2005 highpoint when yearly operations peaked above 200,000. According to long-range forecasts, those numbers should increase gradually up to a range of 190,000 to 195,000 takeoffs and landings by the year 2032.

While his annual economic growth forecast for the state predicted a lackluster performance for 2015 (job growth rate of 2.5 percent), ASU economist Dr. Lee McPheeters was a bit more optimistic in preparing the economic benefits study portion of the airport master plan.

His figures concerning one of the busiest single-runway airports in the country show a ripple effect involving more than 3,450 jobs supported by aviation activity at the reliever hub that translated to approximately $536 million in fiscal 2014. And over the lifetime of the current plan draft, those numbers should only go up with total economic benefits by 2032 estimated in excess of $700 million annually.

Master plan figures in the Economic Benefit Analysis category show that benefits generated on a daily basis are equivalent to $1.5 million a year as 385 aircraft arrive and depart the airport on an average day. Again, using “average day” figures, air visitors inject $120,000 daily into the area economy.

“We do this report to help protect the airport as the vital economic asset it is,” said Ferrara. “It’s a well-thought-out document with no major surprises that shows what we have now, what we think the future will bring, and how we properly plan for what we anticipate will be modest growth. It’s a flexible plan, not set in stone. It’s a wonderful strategic document that allows us to evaluate what might happen in the future and whether we would accelerate or slow down to keep pace with those changes. We do this to protect the airport as the vital economic asset it is.”

FAA recommendations suggest that airport master plans be updated every five years or as necessary to keep things current, assessing existing roles and strategically planning for the future. A previous update accounted for needs through calendar year 2015 while this draft looks at the anticipated needs of the general aviation community through calendar 2032.

Under the advertising mantra of “Sunny Days, No Delays,” Scottsdale Airport is still basking in its successes during Super Bowl XLIX. “Scottsdale Airport led Valley airports with the most airport operations for private jets with no delays and smooth operations. Its operational plan serves as the model for the next Super Bowl,” according to the Coffman Associates Web page. Adding to those accolades, Arizona Cardinals’ President Michael Bidwill referred to SDL as “No. 1 for airport operations during Super Bowls.”

One of the areas for future focus will be an even closer look at increasing involvement with executive-type jet aircraft.

“We’re anticipating more activity with larger jets in the business aviation sector and looking for ways we can support that,” Ferrera said. “Owners of corporate jets look kindly at Scottsdale and our airport cultivates that feeling. We’re looking at housing executive-type jets as well as servicing some of the smaller aircraft owners.”

Forecasted needs include addition of hangar space to accommodate a surge in corporate jets. According to Ferrera, there are nearly 400 aircraft home-based at the moment with a potential 20 potential increase in that number by the end of the latest proposed master plan.

“Executive hangar space is projected to be a big demand going forward due to the anticipated growth of based jets, turboprops and helicopters,” she said.

Added McPheeters: “While the whole aviation industry was hard hit by 9-11, then by the recession, there’s been a comeback in recent years and Scottsdale Airport has been a part of it. It’s all about time. When economists look at the issue of business travel and corporate jets, consider that there are only 24 hours in a day and time saving becomes more valuable, a motivator for decision-making of anything that will save time. Even as corporations become more profitable, there is still the constraint of 24 hours and saving time via a corporate jet translates into cost savings. And more business travel and an increase in the use of corporate jets is a specialty of Scottsdale Airport.”

To review the proposed final draft master plan, log on to