By J. Graber
A recently awarded $5.4 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration will increase efficiency for planes waiting to take off at Scottsdale Airport, airport officials say.
The grants will provide funding to construct an aircraft run-up area, reconstruct a portion of the taxiway and taxiway connectors up to current FAA safety standards, and rehabilitate a taxiway connector.
That will allow smaller prop planes, which are slower to take off, to get out of the way of the larger and faster corporate jets.
Getting the faster planes out first will improve efficiency at the one-runway facility, airport spokeswoman Sarah Ferrara says.
“It really just plays into how they can move that traffic most efficiently,” Ferrara says.
But general aviation aircraft owner Dr. Chris Winterholler called the development “infuriating.”
He says the grant will be used as another move to push any aircraft that aren’t business jets out of the airport.
“The FAA is subsidizing the super-rich and kicking the (general aviation) community to the weeds,” Winterholler says, calling it “pork-barrel spending for essentially one weekend” — namely, the Super Bowl.
“Infrastructure for the 0.01% of the population is what this is,” he adds, stating that such spending while ignoring “actual taxpaying local business people that rely on that airport is wrong.”
Ferrara denies that accusation.
“It’s not really that we’re giving preference to (corporate jets); it’s how do we get them most efficiently in the flow and out,” she says.
The group Save Scottsdale General Aviation sued the airport and Jet Aviation in April for what it calls a concerted effort to push smaller, general aviation planes out of the airport to make way for larger business jets.
At least 78 plane owners who parked their aircraft at what was known as the Greenway Shades area of the airport got eviction notices earlier this year.
Jet Aviation, a fixed-base operator at the airport that owned the leases, canceled them and demolished the site to make room for new facilities, including 30,000 square feet of hangar space, 13,000 square feet of office and lobby space and 200,000 square feet of private ramp.
Jet Aviation is building what it calls a “customer flagship facility” in Scottsdale.
At the crux of the group’s complaint is the claim that the city violated the state’s gift clause, which says governmental agencies in Arizona cannot “give or loan its credit in the aid of, or make any donation or grant, by subsidy or otherwise, to any individual, association or corporation.”
In other words, taxpayer assets cannot be used to profit a private individual or organization.
By allowing Jet Aviation to terminate the leases for the 78 plane storage units early, the city gave Jet Aviation what amounts to a gift, according to the lawsuit.
The lawyer for the Save Scottsdale General Aviation has received the defendants’ initial disclosures and is working on theirs, says John Washington, a spokesman for the group.
Washington calls the current situation an attempt to maximize jet fuel sales at the airport.
“How about the FAA give (the airport) money to build GA parking rather than facilitate jet parking for one weekend for the super-rich that have to attend a stupid football game or car show or golf tournament?”
The new project will be funded by two grants from the FAA that include $4,690,602 in Airport Improvement Grant funds and $763,000 from bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
During Scottsdale Airport’s busy season — especially during event season with the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, WM Phoenix Open and the Arabian Horse Show — there are spikes in business jet operations.
The boost comes from a mixture of aircraft types — including smaller propeller, turbo prop and business jet aircraft — all competing to depart, according to a written statement released by the airport.
“The business jets departing with instrument flight rules have a certain window to depart the airport when they receive clearance from the FAA tower,” the statement says.
“Unfortunately, with a single taxiway and aircraft lined up to depart, the business jet aircraft are unable to taxi around smaller aircraft. And in some instances, some aircraft waiting to depart, obstruct others and delay their departure.”
And that creates an efficiency problem, Scottsdale Airport Aviation Director Gary P. Mascaro says.
“This causes a bottleneck of aircraft at our runway end,” Mascaro says. “These grants support the importance of improving these capacity issues at Scottsdale Airport.”
Aviation staff, in collaboration with Mead & Hunt (the airport’s on-call engineer) and the FAA air traffic control staff, designed the project to introduce five aircraft run-up positions at the north end of the runway.
This provides adequate spacing for aircraft and allows the air traffic control tower to efficiently clear aircraft for departure, according to the written statement.
The FAA recognized the importance of this project — especially with Super Bowl LVII coming this February — and awarded the grants to Scottsdale earlier than expected, the written statement says.
The project will start this fall, and completion is anticipated by the end of the year — just in time for the Super Bowl.