Jul. 11—Developers are halfway into a $150-million, 750,000-square-foot expansion at Falcon Field in northeast Mesa, further filling in what precious little open space remains at the city-owned general aviation site.
Mesa Hangars LLC Manager Randy Hansen, who has lived in northeast Mesa for 35 years, is the primary investor in the development. He owns and hangars his own plane at Falcon and is especially taken with one of the new tenants ... one he never imagined seeing at the one-time WWII pilot training installation.
"It's a start-up rocket venture that's building components for a rocket company in Tucson," Hansen chuckled. "We're buildin' rockets over here! Who would have ever thought at Falcon Field that we are building rockets to launch satellites?"
Other clients include Banner Health, which will house and service its fleet of emergency medical helicopters; WWII fighter plane enthusiasts and Gulf Stream 550s; a few P-51 Mustangs; CAU, a California-based flight school; a charter flight company and a host of private corporate jet owners.
The expansion will help shorten a waiting list for upper-end hangars that range in size from 3,400-15,000 square feet.
But it may not provide more space for the small, private pilots who routinely park and tie down their older planes under sheet metal roofs that provide some shade from the direct sun, but offer no protection from the wind or monsoon storms.
When this project is finished, Falcon will have an additional 50 technologically advanced, environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient hangars ready for high-dollar clients. It also will house related businesses to service the aircraft, as the airport positions itself for future growth and the commerce associated with it.
The hangars and connected offices are equipped with high-end finishes, conference spaces and meeting rooms with huge video screens. There are well-appointed sleeping quarters for pilots, which include bathrooms, replete with showers and warm water bidets as well as work spaces with sweeping views of the airfield through large, curved glass windows.
"We have beautiful, class A space," said David Wakefield, managing partner of Davcon Aviation, LLC, the company overseeing the expansion.
"The combination of hangars and aircraft related businesses with this level of amenities is rare, even when you take Scottsdale Airpark into account," Wakefield said.
Those related businesses, said Falcon Field airport director Corinne Nystrom, are crucial to the future success and sustainability of Falcon Field.
"We need to look at the airport as a whole," Nystrom said. "You are going to have people who are going to buy or rent houses or apartments and buy their groceries in Mesa, buy their fuel and go to McDonald's.
"That adds to the economy. Focusing just on the jet traffic, it's great. But we have to continue to be a diversified airport because when those economic ups and downs come, we are going to want to rely on the industries that are not as adversely affected," she said, although she conceded the economy "could take a turn in a different direction and things could start slowing down."
"We just have to be ready for it when it comes," Nystrom said.
Nystrom added that municipal airports which have historically relied solely on corporate jet traffic and did not have as many businesses associated with the aircraft were hit hard economically by the pandemic.
"Because they were focusing pretty much solely on the jet traffic," she said. "We did not get hit too hard during COVID, surprisingly. Again, that goes back to the diversity of operations and the types of businesses here."
As Amazon and other corporate behemoths sink roots into northeast Mesa, the need for time-saving, more efficient corporate air travel will increase.
Alex Gertsen, director of airports and ground infrastructure at the National Business Aviation Association, said corporate travel customer demand has increased lately, likely in response to staffing shortages and flight delays at large, commercial airlines and airports.
"It can be very disruptive for a business operation if you're going to have a meeting somewhere," Gertsen said. "Ultimately, there is a lot of demand. Companies have started to rely more on business aviation than they have in the past."
While Gertsen acknowledges the increasing importance of corporate traffic at Falcon Field, he said the airport that opened 81 years ago remains a staple for flight training. That could help resolve the problem that is causing lots of flight delays and cancellations in the first place: pilot and staffing shortages at commercial airlines.
"It's important to understand that when (passengers) get on their flight at PHX, the captain and the first officer did not learn to fly at airports like PHX," Gertsen said.
"They learned to fly at airports like Falcon Field. Unless you were in the military and had a unique path to learn to fly, everyone civilian learned to fly in a small airplane at a general aviation airport like (Falcon Field)."
As it currently stands, Falcon Field handles about 1,000 flights a day coming and going, according to Nystrom. And while the airport may soon be out of physical ground space, Nystrom said, that doesn't mean that it is out of air space.
Falcon is still capable of handling more planes that are passing through, so to speak, stopping to get food at an airfield restaurant or fuel at the large, Av Fuel gas station on site, which offers fuel rewards points nationwide, just like your local convenience store.
"We are seeing an increase in the number of itinerant type of operations where people are either flying from someplace else and landing here," Nystrom said. "Or they are taking off here and flying to another location."
Airport enthusiasts have a brand new front row seat from which to watch the action both current and future.
Falcon Field recently unveiled a brand-new aircraft viewing area. Just a few feet from the storied Commemorative Air Force museum and in the shadow of the air traffic control tower, the viewing area is futuristic but with a nod to the airport's rich military history.
There is a mural of British and U.S. fighter pilots along one wall, and a larger than life painting of a WWII era pilot with a bomber jacket, leather flight hat and barnstormer goggles looking to the sky adorning one wall of the adjacent air traffic control tower.
There are bright aircraft themed seating areas for kids, a mock gray and white runway that serves as a sidewalk, picnic tables and Plexiglas shields that offer people a view of planes taxiing, taking off and landing.
The expansion is due to be complete within 18 months.
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