A federal report prepared as part of a proposed Sky Harbor expansion wrongly overlooked the potential of Williams Gateway as a commercial reliever airport, Mesa officials said.
A letter from the City Council to the Federal Aviation Administration, which offers support for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s plan, states the city does not support the concept of all future airline traffic being centralized at Sky Harbor. It also notes that an expansion to Sky Harbor will result in an increase in aircraft noise.
The latter issue has prompted Tempe to ask the FAA for at least 45 days beyond the July 26 comment period deadline to allow more time to formulate its response to the federal environmental impact report.
Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker said his city supports what Sky Harbor is doing, but he wants the FAA to pay more attention to Williams Gateway Airport as a potential reliever. The city’s goal is to provide service to 2 million passengers per year from the site of the former Williams Air Force Base, which closed in 1993.
"If you continue to improve only one airport and figure that’s the only airport in the region, then it’s to Gateway’s detriment," Hawker said. "We are just saying ‘Hey, don’t forget us.’ "
Phoenix aviation director David Krietor said he agrees with Hawker.
"The region is going to be in trouble if we don’t do these projects at Sky Harbor and if Williams Gateway doesn’t develop as a reliever facility," he said. "We need both."
Mesa Councilman Rex Griswold said the FAA draft report, which was released last month, implies that when Sky Harbor is absolutely overloaded, then it will be time to look at another airport.
"Their approach is how do we make it more efficient to land more planes at Sky Harbor, rather than how do we divert planes and make it less crowded," Griswold said. "That to me is the wrong emphasis."
Sky Harbor’s plans call for the demolition of Terminal 2 and construction of a 33-gate terminal, modifications to Terminal 4, construction of two taxiways, modifications to Sky Harbor Boulevard and construction of the second stage of the Automated People Mover.
Terminal 2 is the smallest with 12 gates. Terminal 3 has 16 gates and Terminal 4 has 90.
The airport served 39.6 million passengers in 2004 and is expected to serve 50 million passengers annually by 2015, Krietor said.
The addition of a fourth runway is not included in these plans and would require another environmental impact study. Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, whose city has clashed with Phoenix over aircraft noise, said he was not prepared to talk about whether he believes the expansion could one day lead to a decision to pursue a fourth runway.
FAA spokesman Donn Walker said the agency has little to do with ensuring there is commercial airline service at Williams Gateway.
"It’s up to the airport to decide whether or not they have passenger traffic and it’s frankly up to airlines to decide whether or not there is passenger traffic there," he said.
The airport is owned and operated by the Williams Gateway Airport Authority, which includes Mesa, Gilbert, Queen Creek and the Gila River Indian Community.