Phoenix-Mesa Turns Corporate

Former Williams AFB is today a hub of training — and soon of business aviation

MESA, AZ — Lynn F. Kusy, C.M., C.A.E., executive director of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, and his staff have ambitiously sought to develop the former Williams Air Force Base since the latter’s closure in 1993. They’ve had some success and their share of misses, like opening their initial airline terminal in mid-2001. Over time, however, three community colleges have made a foothold in aviation training, and all are situated on or across the street from airport property. That success, along with the airport’s decision to invest in infrastructure on the north side of the airfield for development, have put Kusy’s crew in the corporate aviation driver’s seat — almost overnight.

Kusy came to the airport in March 1993 and vowed to have a public use facility open six months after the Air Force Base closure, which he did. Recalling the journey since that time he says, “I felt like we started off like the cowboy who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions. We were trying to sort of test the market in a variety of areas and see where we attracted some attention.

“We wanted to be a commercial service airport; we wanted to support manufacturing and training, and aircraft testing.

“One thing we did was we filled all the buildings that the Air Force had left us. We filled about 300,000 square feet of existing space. We did that without having a fire sale.”
In April 2001, the airport finished creating a small passenger terminal, converting a former military facility. After 9/11, says Kusy, the carriers lost interest. Since then, airline service has been sporatic; however, Allegiant has come and stayed and is having success bringing tourists to the Phoenix area from Northwest and Midwest markets.

In the interim, the Williams-Gateway Airport Authority brought on the City of Phoenix, operator of Sky Harbor International, as a member, signaling a regional approach to air service development. In fact, Phoenix provides subsidy funds to Phoenix-Mesa.

Explains Kusy, “The Williams Gateway Airport Authority is comprised of five local governments — Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek, Phoenix, and the Gila River Indian community.

Those five governments contribute to our budget each year — about $3.9 million this year. Part of that goes into our capital budget, but about $2.5 million supports our operating budget.”

He says the annual deficit has held steady at some $2.5 million, despite a growth in revenues. The airport’s ops budget for 2009 is $9.17 million; expenses are $12.2 million, according to Kusy.

“We’re developing a strategic financial business plan right now, looking at all of our projected needs and revenues and our funding sources out to 20 years,” says Kusy. “We don’t have a good handle yet on when we’ll break even, but we’re expecting that study will show us how to get to that point.

“We’re also doing a peer review to make sure that we’re in line with other airports in terms of our expenses and our revenues.”

The role of training
As the airport looked for new opportunities, the success of the local colleges began to influence development decisions. “We turned our attention to the north industrial area, and worked with the city to get the infrastructure in there,” explains Kusy.

“Chandler-Gilbert Community College does flight training and A&P maintenance; and has a new facility under construction. They’ve been operating out of a hangar, renting it from us for ten years. Now they’re building their own facility on the flightline.

“Their main campus is right across the street. The fact that we have Chandler-Gilbert Community College onsite is the main reason that we’ve landed the Cessna, Embraer, and Hawker-Beechcraft service centers. That’s the training ground for their employees.”

Arizona State University offers flight training at the site, via an agreement with Mesa Air Group. The airport built ASU’s flight training center with a loan from the Arizona Department of Transportation, according to Kusy.

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