Fri, May 24

Regional airport idea put on hold for now<br>Planning organization 'not to pursue at this time'<br>

Denise Sciarrotta, Cottonwood, said the Verde Valley's growth will depend on what the water availability will be.

Ruth Johnson, of the Verde Valley Property Owners Association, said a regional airport would mean "there will be an 'airline freeway' to bring people in here."

Carol Mackler, Cottonwood, said that, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's Web site, the existing airport at Sedona is safe. She cited NTSB statistics that out of approximately 200,000 flights involving that airport, only one fatality has occurred.

"I think we should continue to use it," she said.

Carolyn Bickart, Sedona, a member of the Verde Regional Airport Committee, told attendees they would hear " a lot of opinion, a lot of fears, a lot of surmisal" during the meeting.

What must be answered, she said, is the question, "Will we need it?"

The last study was done in 1987, said Bickart, adding, "It was outdated before it got into the hands of everyone, because of the phenomenal growth."

Munir Metwally, who reportedly had worked in the aircraft industry, said, "There should be no debate when it comes to safety in the air and on the ground."

At the Sedona airport, he said, incidents on approach or landing have been nearly double those of the nation's average airport – at 90 percent compared to 58 percent; and incidents involving turbulence have been nearly three times as many.

Dick Lucas, a Cottonwood Ranch resident and longtime pilot, said he had flown the Sedona airport for 25 years and its runway is long enough for the valley's needs.

Some time ago, he said, America West had studied the Sedona situation and had concluded there would never be a significant enough need for commuter flights between Phoenix and Sedona.

Visitors were more likely to fly into Phoenix, rent a car and drive up to the area, said Lucas. "It's not really economical to travel that short distance by air," he said.

Regarding a future need for a regional airport, Lucas said, "We may need one someday – if we solve the water problem."

However, he cautioned, a regional airport "would need a minimum of a half-million people living in Verde Valley."

Lucas suggested making the best of the existing airport a Sedona, which he said likely would make widening its runway to 100 feet its next project.

"This is not the time to close down the Sedona airport," he said, adding that developers are lusting after the airport's acreage.

Arvin Schultz, Phoenix, president of the Arizona Pilots Association, said that organization would be "opposed to closure of any airports in Arizona."

Regarding a regional airport, he said, "To envision this is pretty drastic at this time."

Closing small airports also would impact young people's chances to learn to fly, said Schultz.

James Timm, Mesa, an Arizona Pilots Association member, said small airports provide important services, such as medical and Flights for Life, which brings in blood supplies. "In many cases, time is of the essence," he said.

Joanne Johnson, of VOCA and the Big Creek regional council, said she agreed with what had been said already to oppose the regional airport.

David Webster, president of the Sedona Airport Authority, also commented on the idea for a regional airport, saying, "Maybe someday we will need that – about 40 or 50 years out."

Mac McCall, the Sedona airport's general manager, said, "Ongoing safety improvements are a matter of fact."

He also said that the Federal Aviation Authority doesn't just go out and build an airport. There has to be an organization and that organization must do a socioeconomic study, he added.

Russ Demaray, Sedona, said the Sedona airport has approximately 60 takeoffs and landings daily, mostly tour operators.

"Sedona is still an extremely small airport," he said, adding that the area's local airports now can handle most tourists.

The Grand Canyon Airport has double the number of Sedona's flights, Demaray said.

David Allan, a member of the Noise Abatement Committee and the Sedona Airport Authority, said "an airport should meet the needs of the people here and who want to come in" – not just a small number of pilots.

"I think that the populaiton is there," he said, referring to the proposed regional airport.

Allan also said the Sedona airport is leased by the county for only $1 per year, that airport businesses don't pay taxes to the county, and those lost taxes are a significant amount each year.

Citing growth in the number of both residents and tourists, he said use of the Sedona airport has increased 300 percent.

"There is a substantial need to provide a good service to people in this area," said Allan.

"There is not a good service for the 55,000 people in this valley," he said. "There is not a good service for visitors. This is our last chance."

Dave Hunt, legal counsel to the county's Board of Supervisors, said a county acquires land from the federal government for the express purpose of having an airport.

There is a reverter clause, he said, in which the property will revert to the U.S. government.

"Ceasing operations of the airport is not an option we have," said the attorney.

Chip Davis, a VVTPO member and District 3 county supervisor, joked, "If there's a $62 million offer to get out of the airport business, we have just opened negotiations."

Whether there's a regional airport or the area continues to use existing airports, he said, "There's some work that has to be done for our service….Our numbers are ever increasing."

The Sedona airport isn't funded by the county, said Davis, adding, "That has saved taxpayers a considerable amount of money."

He also said, "Now is not the time for a regional airport study."

"If the government took all the money it's spent on studies and put it back into action, there'd be a helluva lot more done." Davis said.

Other action

In other business, VVTPO members decided to submit two Verde Valley community projects – the Cornville Road project and the Willard Street project for funding to the Northern Arizona Council of Governments as part of its 2005-6 construction program.

The two road projects were among five Verde Valley community projects that received NACOG technical scores designating the valley's five most critical projects.

Funding could involve $423,000 in federal aid or $330,000 in state aid, Costello told VVTPO members.