Peaceful Coexistence

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.

In time, says McCall, the community outreach approach had an impact, and today the airport is much less of a hot focal point as in the past. McCall heavily promotes the $21 million economic impact of the airport, as estimated by the Arizona department of economic security, and the 400 jobs actually on the airport.

“One of the people who were the biggest noise complainers is now the mayor and one of our biggest supporters,” explains McCall. “Same with the chairman of the noise abatement committee.”

Increasing Airfield Activity

The fixed base operation, Red Rock Aviation, at Sedona is a wholly owned subsidiary of the authority. Much of the private business activity today, as historically, is associated with the air tour business. While the growing population is some 12,000, each year the region welcomes some five million visitors.

There are two rotary tour operators, Maverick Helicopters and Arizona Helicopter Adventures, and two fixed wing operators, Red Rock Bi-Planes and Aero Sedona. Sky Safari and Sedona Sky Treks offer charter, and there is a terminal restaurant and the Sky Ranch Lodge on adjacent airport property.

With much of the community resistance to the airport eroded, McCall is turning his focus on infrastructure improvements. There are some 105 aircraft, mostly pistons, based at the airport. McCall says he has a waiting list of 40 for new hangars, which are in the planning stages.

In 2006, the airport widened its sole 5,130-foot runway to 100 feet, which McCall says helped boost jet traffic. The rise in celebrity status of Sedona, combined with new resorts and the discovery of the region by Fortune 500 companies, are bringing a heightened need for bizjet accommodations and services, he says.

McCall says he has seen a 50 percent increase in his annual operations budget, to $1.65 million, since his arrival. And he’s been able to create a capital development account for future development. He says he has some $500,000 in reserves on hand, and some $5 million in state and federal grants in process to address infrastructure needs. Among the projects: enlarge the ramp; increase safety areas; relocate the helipads; upgrading water and fire protection systems; and building a perimeter road inside the fence for maintenance and security. A $3.6 million terminal expansion is also being planned for 2009, with an enlarged restaurant and a second level with overlook decks.

The other hot item on McCall’s hit list is a contract tower. He says that getting a better handle on controlling air traffic in the area is critical to long-term peace with neighbors and with the National Park Service.

“A contract tower will give us Class D airspace, so we’ll at least have some ability to communicate with the pilots,” says McCall. “We’ll be able to inform them of our noise abatement procedures.

“If we have controlled airspace for five miles outside of this airport, that’ll put the aircraft higher over the wilderness areas.”