Thursday, March 27, 2014

Prescott Municipal Airport, Ernest A. Love Field (KPRC), Prescott, Arizona

Editorial: 'Just right' is not forever

It's a Goldilocks situation.

"This one's too big. This one's too small. But this one is just right."

For many years, "just right" has ended up being the answer of choice when it comes to deciding the future of the Prescott Municipal Airport. It's primarily general aviation, with a little bit of commercial mixed in, and as it hosts Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's flight line, it has traffic enough to be counted as one of the busiest airports in the nation.

Despite its "just right" status, city officials have, over the years, repeatedly turned their eyes to the north of downtown and tried to figure out how to make it better. They've battled through a number of providers that, with the aid of government grants, have come to provide Essential Air Service, none with great success. They've only recently realized that the rents they've been charging for commercial and hangar space was far enough below market value that the market may as well have been on the moon.

Little fixes and touch-ups are all well and good but, as with everything else in life, "just right" doesn't remain so forever.

It's time to spend some money, if only so that folks arriving for the first time don't walk into the 3,800 square-foot, 1947-vintage terminal and ask, "Where's the terminal?"

The choices are to do improvements necessary to remain a quality general aviation airport, at a cost of about $30 million, or to take a leap of faith and do enough improvements to become a regional airport, with a price tag of about $95 million.

That's a lot of money. But wait, with numerous federal and state grants available, the cost of going regional could end up somewhere between $6 million and $7 million. Not sofa-cushion change, but clearly doable.

The regional idea has a nearby proven example. In St. George, Utah, the folks there took the plunge in 2011 and now have a 35,000 square-foot terminal and two airlines - Skywest-Delta and United Express, funneling passengers to Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. St George is a larger city than Prescott, but its Washington County population is nearly 100,000 less than Yavapai County's.

Airports bring people and airports bring business and airports bring jobs. And, given the local history of spotty passenger service, combined with mandated improvements that will eat up a great deal of dough regardless of what future the City Council chooses, going regional seems to be the clear choice.

We have only one question: Why haven't we already done this?

Article and comments/reaction: