Study: Falcon Field a soaring economic engine

Falcon Field in east Mesa is an economic engine of significant proportions, generating millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs for Mesa, according to the dean of ASU’s presigious Carey School of Business.

Mesa has big plans for Falcon Field, already a powerful economic force as the fifth-busiest general aviation airport in the nation with 300,000 take offs and landings per year.

When combined with its international mega-corporation neighbor, The Boeing Co., the northeast Mesa aviation hot spot generates an estimated $6.8 billion a year, according to an economic impact report included in an updated Falcon Field master plan.

“That is an alternative way, a completely legitimate way, to look at the economic impact of the area,’’ said Lee McPheters, dean of Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, who authored the study.

Even without Boeing, Falcon Field’s economic output out distances the other general aviation airports in Maricopa County — including Scottsdale Airpark, McPheters said.

It generates an estimated total of $811 million a year in direct benefits, such as salaries paid to employees of companies located at the airport and secondary benefits, such as suppliers of these companies and consumer spending by employees, McPheters said.

“For a general aviation airport, that’s really quite significant,’’ he said.

McPheters report said Falcon Field’s impact, at the airport alone, includes 1,486 jobs with an economic output of $434.3 million.

Scottsdale Airpark finished second, with 1,406 jobs and an economic output of $284.2 million; followed by Deer Valley, $196.2 million; Goodyear, $67.4 million and Chandler, $32.5 million.

The number of aviation and non-aviation employees on Falcon Field also tops the other airports with 1,486 workers, comparted with 1,406 at Scottsdale Airpark — the second highest — and 163 at Chandler Airport — the lowest of the five.

In a typical day, Falcon Field sees 767 takeoffs and landings and generates $2.2 million in economic impact.  During 2017, there were 719 aircraft based at Falcon Field, mostly single-engine planes; that number is expected to eventually rise to 1,040.

The updated master plan is intended as a document that will guide the airport’s development for the next 20 years.  

The plan is required by the Federal Aviation Administration and is used as a launching point for grant requests to the FAA and the Arizona Department of Transportation. The last plan dates back to 2010.

Airport Director Corrine Nystrom said she plans to submit a report that includes the master plan and it could come before the council for approval in July.

“You are going to see a lot of improvements going on at Falcon Field in the next two years,’’ she said.

She said that includes a $1.2 million grant from the FAA to improve the connections between taxiways and runways, allowing for better and more efficient circulation of airport traffic on the ground.

“We are very assertive in working with the FAA and ADOT,’’ Nystrom said.

It’s easy to see why from a chart included in the master plan.

Matt Quick, an associate with Coffman Associates, which authored the plan, said the overall cost of the 10-year capital improvement plan is $27.3 million and that 90 percent of it is eligible for grants from the FAA and ADOT.

If those grants eventually are secured, Mesa’s share would be $1.6 million, according to the master plan.

Among the big projects are 5,600 square feet of corporate hangar space currently under construction. Plans for another 8,300 square feet are under review by city planning officials.

The largest of these projects is a 23-acre development by Davcon Aviation LLC and Mesa Hangar LLC that will include 340,000 square feet of hangar space, scheduled for completion in late 2021. The project has been billed as a major lure to attract new companies to the airport by adding new hangars that can be built to meet a customer’s requirements.

The one-square mile airport was founded in 1941 as a training ground primarily for the Royal Air Force during WWII. The British lost 23 cadets during the training, and they are buried together at Mesa City Cemetery.

After the war ended, Falcon Field was turned over to the city in 1948 and started its new mission as a municipal airport. The airport is located between McKellips and McDowell roads, between Greenfield and Higley roads.

The airport averages about four noise complaints per month, spokeswoman Dee Anne Thomas said.

“We do a lot of outreach to the community to help people understand what goes on at the airport,’’ she said.

Nystrom said the airport works with pilots and the CAE Phoenix aviation academy to minimize noise, but in the end, flight patterns are ultimately dictated by safety concerns.

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