Peaceful Coexistence

It’s not easy running an airport imbedded in a national park; but it’s getting there

SEDONA, AZ — Edward ‘Mac’ McCall, A.A.E., says he has the best job in aviation — general manager for the Sedona Airport Administration. It’s a long way from chief of operations at O’Hare International, where he also coordinated the army that is ORD’s snow removal team. When McCall took over as director of the Sedona Airport in 1999, the community was up in arms. “They were having lots of problems,” explains McCall. “They decided they needed someone with a broad range of experience.” Most importantly, he says, they needed for the airport to change its image, and to give it a face, a community identity.

Sedona is a forest of red rocks, a spiritual vortex, a community of artisans, a place for retirees. It has a vista that can be called unparalleled, and much of that vista is federal parkland. Thus, Sedona’s growth, which has been significant over the past 15 years, is restricted. And with the onset of high-end resorts, it has found its way onto the celebrity circuit.

Says McCall, “There are specific locales where celebrities and high-income people with access to corporate jets like to go — like Aspen, Telluride. We’re going to be in that class within the next three to five years. We have some very high-end resorts that are now advertising in those magazines that those people get.”

Located some two hours straight north of Phoenix off Interstate 17, or 30 minutes south of Flagstaff, Sedona sits in Yavapi County, which actually owns the airport. It leases the facility to the independent Sedona Airport Administration, formed in 1971 originally as the Sedona Oak Creek Airport Authority.

The airport has seen most of its growth since the late 1980s and has had a series of private enterprises come and go. In 1993-94, the Sedona Airport Administration began taking over the refueling and hangar management by buying up the existing businesses.

As the airport grew in the 1990s and the community along with it, the role of the airport became a question and the noise associated with it became a target. And it is a very visible target, sitting atop a mesa more than 4,000 feet above city center. The airport road is well-known locally for its overlook of the region, perfect for sunsets, that sits about a half mile from the airport entrance.

Explains McCall, “One of the big problems was with the neighbors over noise. And they were completely not addressing it. One thing we know in aviation is that is one thing you cannot ignore. You have to be a community friendly airport.”

Face of the Airport

McCall says that the main thing he sold the authority on was his theory that somebody needed to be the face of the airport to the community. “Most people respond to the face of the airport by talking to the CEO, the director. They want to talk to the guy in charge,” he explains.

McCall operates under contract to manage airport operations, and his contract was renewed in January for another five years, he says. The arrangement allows him to continue to offer consulting services — certification manuals; legal expertise; snow removal programs; etc. — via Mac McCall Airport & Aviation Consulting, LLC.

Upon coming to Sedona, McCall contracted for a survey of the community to get input on what citizens thought of the airport. “We did a survey in cooperation with the Sedona Noise Abatement Committee, and we solicited for noise complaints. We wanted to see how bad it actually was. That was our base point, and we’ve gone up from there considerably.”

Subsequently, McCall says he spent 60-70 percent of his time the first two years getting in touch with the community. “I went to every pancake breakfast, every Rotary Club meeting; anybody who would let me speak, I spoke.”

He also spoke with based pilots on volunteer efforts the flying community could do in the uncontrolled airspace. As a result, the pattern altitude was increased some 200 feet.

McCall also had conversations with the helicopter and fixed wing tour operators — a Sedona staple — to fly higher on their tours.

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