The 1.9-million people who traveled through Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport last year generated a record $1.8-billion in economic activity for the East Valley, according to airport Executive Director Brian O’Neill.
“Most of us on staff at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport don’t think that we work at a regional airport,” O’Neill recently told the Queen Creek Economic Development Commission.
“We think that we work at a 3,000-acre economic development project that just happens to have three, 10,000-foot runways and a thriving regional airport as part of our infrastructure,” he added.
“Most airports our size, with around 2-million passengers, just don’t have the opportunity to play that economic development role.
“Our most important job is as a job creator,” O’Neill said. “Serving as an economic catalyst. Queen Creek has been a really good partner and an ally.”
Gateway is a former Air Force base – which is why it has a large runway configuration the size of Phoenix Sky Harbor.
It is operated by the Williams Gateway Airport Authority and overseen by a six-member board that includes Queen Creek Mayor Julia Wheatley.
“Having the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport so close to the town is definitely a draw, particularly for businesses,” Wheatley told the Tribune.
“Our Economic Development team uses the airport’s close proximity in their communication with potential businesses and employers.”
Queen Creek Economic Development Director Doreen Cott said the growth occurring from both aeronautical and non-aeronautical companies like Virgin Galactic, SkyBridge Arizona, Gulfstream Aerospace Service Center, and Gateway East is creating high-wage jobs that help the town.
The employers are creating jobs, but nearby educational facilities such as ASU Polytechnic and local charter high schools are training grounds in every aspect of aviation field.
“The partnerships in the Gateway area between the nationally-recognized EVIT, ASU Polytechnic, and Chandler-Gilbert Community College as well as the employers located here are a huge value-add for companies and their unique workforce needs,” Cott said.
“This is not something every airport or every region has in their backyard,” she added.
“In addition to the new companies locating at the airport, the increased passenger service has been great for the town’s tourism efforts and our partnership with Visit Mesa.”
While traffic is growing at the airport, it is not likely to challenge Phoenix Sky Harbor and its 47-million yearly passengers for airport seniority any time soon – nor was is designed to, said O’Neill.
The five airlines based at Gateway are seasonal and their non-daily departure schedules do not cater to the business traveler.
That is not likely to change, according to O’Neill.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to see an American or Southwest,” O’Neill said. “They’ve got huge operations in Sky Harbor and Sky Harbor is 30 miles away.”
Virtually all the people who use Phoenix-Mesa Gateway are leisure travelers, he said.
However, despite the absence of non-daily flights, Cott said the airport remains a strong selling point when courting businesses considering locating in Queen Creek.
“Potential employers frequently prefer or require proximity to an airport for a variety of reasons, and having PMGA just a couple miles from the Town and its employment sites strengthen Queen Creek’s position in the site selection process,” she said.
“To be within 30 miles of both PMGA and Sky Harbor International Airport assures a company’s aviation needs can be met within just a short drive,” she added.
She added that the jobs associated with the companies at the airport generate as much if not more interest among potential employers.
“They are pleased to learn about development occurring on and around the airport, as well as the potential growth and future plans,” Cott said.
The economic benefits of the airport go beyond the air traffic and the companies considering locating at the airpark, and have a direct impact on the town’s job market, according to Cott.
About 400 Queen Creek residents work at or near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway.
“The number of Queen Creek residents employed near the airport will only grow as the airport continues to develop and attract additional private investment,” Cott said.
Despite increasing air traffic at the airport, noise complaints have remained relatively low.
Queen Creek registered only 17 noise related calls in 2022, third highest, but well below Mesa (63) and Gilbert (51), the top two. Overall, the airport fielded 137 noise complaints from six municipalities.
Last year, Sky Harbor reported over 25,000 noise complaints – most in Tempe and mostly from only a few hundred households.
To keep up with the growing air traffic, O’Neill said Phoenix-Mesa Gateway is in the midst of a five-gate, 30,000-square-foot terminal.
“We look forward to growing together,” Wheatley said. “As the town grows, we hope more residents and businesses will use the airport and as the airport grows, we hope it helps provide more convenient options and encourages regional development and tourism.
“I truly think one of the best things Queen Creek did was to become part owner in the airport,” she said.
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