When Prescott’s public airfield opened in 1928, private planes were the only traffic. The same year that New York City decided to build its first airport, Ernest A. Love Field in Prescott was dedicated to honor a heroic pilot from our city who lost his life in World War I. In the 1940s Prescott opened its tiny single-gate terminal, and in 1947 TWA brought the first commercial passenger flights.
In early 2021 a modern new terminal is set to open at what is now the 26th busiest airport in the US. In January the facility announced two new daily flights to Phoenix (Sun-Thu) starting Feb. 15 on Boutique Air.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports that in 2020 the Prescott regional airport (PRC) increased flights compared with other airports, and was the third-busiest airport in Arizona. Many of those flights are traffic related to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and private flight training, as well as general aviation by private citizens. Airport management analyst Kristi Miller says that only 2% of traffic is commercial, by Sky-West Airlines, operating as United Express.
Last year was a good one for PRC, which was recognized for its aviation advocacy and outreach, programs, and commitment to advancement, winning the title of 2020 Airport of the Year at the fall conference of the Arizona Department of Transportation Aeronautics. Funding from the FAA to the tune of $10 million in 2019 was put aside for the new terminal. Another $3.5 million came from the City, and $1.25 million from the state. In April $1 million came from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) program.
Growing air traffic from ERAU, Guidance Aviation and North-Aire in the past ten years, along with the arrival of the United Express flights to Los Angeles and Denver in 2018, have made the terminal a busier place. In 2019 the airport racked up 27,730 boardings, a new record. While the pandemic reduced numbers by about half in 2020, it reportedly still surpassed 13,500 boardings. That’s important because it makes the airport’s carrier eligible for “Non-Hub Primary Commercial Service” status with the FAA, and gives PRC access to $1 million in funding for airport facility improvements.
More space, more seating
The airport will get a new look and professional image when the new $15-million terminal opens, featuring a soaring ceiling, an indoor/outdoor fireplace and an outside courtyard. Two gates and two boarding/seating areas will accommodate passengers in the 18,000-square-foot facility. A baggage-claim area will open near the door of the hold area for passengers to claim at will, replacing the current system of delivering bags outside.
“We’ll have a grand-opening celebration in the spring,” Miller said. She noted that in December much of the exterior construction was completed, but interior design work, HVAC-system installation and other upgrades, including building out bathrooms in the main lobby, are underway.
Two gates, two airlines
Miller said the second gate and hold area make it easier for another airline to fly out of the terminal. San Francisco-based Boutique Airlines was one of seven submitting proposals for flights from PRC in 2020, says airport Director Robin Sobotta. The new airline’s service will not be underwritten by the government, a testament to its belief in the strength of the local market.
“USDOT subsidizes SkyWest Airlines and has a contract,” Miller said, to provide essential air service for three years.
The proximity of the airport to ERAU and commercial buildings, as well as its central location in the Quad Cities, make it a hub for business and pleasure travelers, who can easily fly to either city or connect to other flights. Area cities, county officials and local chambers of commerce have praised the location and convenience of the airport as attractive to business.
In a City press release Brian Kondrad, Boutique Air’s vice president for operations, said, “With limited flights on the major airlines during this time, people can fly into Phoenix and make their way to other flight connections and destinations.”
Boutique will provide “concierge-style” service on its eight-seat Pilatus PC-12 Swiss-made turboprop aircraft, leaving PRC at 1pm and 3:20pm, with travel time of about 25 minutes. Boutique Air is a code-share partner with United Airlines, so its passengers can have seamless baggage transfers and singular itineraries.
Miller is working on a plan to gain approval to relocate, lengthen and improve the runway within five years. The process is time-consuming because the FAA has to approve it each step of the way. Those steps involve runway-planning studies, environmental studies, land acquisition, design and construction. The planning studies are underway.
“This would allow the airline to take off fully loaded,” Miller said.
Currently planes are sometimes grounded during hot summer months because of the airport’s elevation, which affects the ability of the aircraft to lift high enough to clear Granite Mountain and other obstacles. If outdoor temps are too high, safe practice can force the aircraft to take off half-full. Except for US Forest Service firefighting aircraft, which receive waivers, the maximum gross landing weight is 100,000 pounds.
Another benefit to improving the runway is to support larger aircraft. Currently SkyWest flights are limited to 50-seat aircraft. The longer runway will be able to handle aircraft with 70-76 seats.
More hangar space
Demand for space to house their planes is strong among pilots and businesses using the airport, according to Miller. “Our current wait list is a year and a half to two years for hanger space, ”Miller said. “So we are looking at private development that would probably start construction (this) year.” She expects both City-owned and private hangar development to begin to expand access for flight-training schools and other commercial interests.
Miller states that another project funded for this year through the FAA will update security systems and cameras to bring the airport up to date. A security gate with scanners was added when United Express began flying out of the airport; now the terminal and entry to the airport will receive upgrades as well.
Call for public art
Yet another sign that the terminal will take the airport to another level is establishment of the Airport Passenger Terminal Art program in November. The City, its Art in Public Places Committee and the Mayor’s Commission for Airport Passenger Terminal Art will select from artworks donated or loaned temporarily or permanently. Three themes are favored for works that may include photos, murals, mosaics, paintings, drawings, prints or sculptures: aviation/flying, regional perspectives (landscapes, natural landmarks, etc.), and Prescott heritage.
In 2019 55,000 people passed through the airport, making it potentially the most-visited art location in the area.