Chandler Municipal Airport Wants Your Business

August 2, 2012

For a “good news” story on how an airport can reinvent itself, attract new businesses, create jobs and welcome aviation operators of all kinds, look no further than Chandler Municipal Airport (CHD) in the Phoenix, AZ metroplex.

Located just 18 miles southeast of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in an area replete with business offices – Intel, Wells Fargo and Toyota to name just a few – Chandler is a busy community airport for Phoenix that is working hard to attract more based and transient business aviation operators, as well as entice more businesses to locate at the airport.

Last September, responsibility for the airport was shifted to the city’s economic development department – previously, it was part of public works – and with the move came a new appreciation of the value and potential of the 546-acre, two-runway facility.

“The airport is such an incredible asset to the city, and we feel there is so much opportunity for new businesses to come in,” said Christine Mackay, Chandler’s economic development director.

Mackay has long understood the importance of the airport as a “jobs generator and economic engine” for Chandler, and was delighted when her department was given responsibility for CHD. “I’ve waited for this opportunity for 14 years,” she said.

Mackay and her staff hit the ground running as soon as the transfer was made. The terminal building was cleaned and re-decorated, including the flight planning/pilot’s lounge, and WiFi and conference space were made available. A new entrance and signage to the airport were constructed, and more than 400 volunteers – organized by Chandler City Councilman Kevin Hartke, along with staff – “painted, pulled weeds and cleaned the airport up,” according to Mackay. City sewer is being made available to airport tenants who want to connect, runways are being repaired and an additional 18 acres have been made available for development.

Economic development department staff met with every airport tenant, and solicited their input about the airport’s needs. “We reprioritized what needs to be done, and we now work in partnership with the operations people,” said Mackay. Lori Quan, a city of Chandler economic development specialist, is based full-time at the airport and also serves as its administrator.

According to Mackay, the fact that she works directly with the city manager and has direct access to the city council allows decisions to be made quickly. “Businesses want decisions made quickly, and deserve assurances as they look to invest here that their business is important to the airport,” said Mackay, noting that the airport and the adjacent airport park are considered the “last frontier” for growth and new businesses in Chandler.

A case in point is the new 30-year lease coordinated by Assistant City Manager Pat McDermott, which was obtained last March by Chandler Air Service, the only full-service fixed base operator (FBO) on the airport grounds, and a key airport tenant. John Walkup, Chandler Air Service founder and president, has operated at the airport for 33 years, but said it had been stagnating for more than 10 years before being moved to the economic development department. He credits Mackay and Quan with “recognizing the value and needs of the airport and getting things going in the right direction.”

Walkup’s new lease increases the size of his property from four to five acres, and he plans to build a new facility in five years or less, including more hangar space for jets and for his busy flight school offices.

For some operators, the only thing holding them back is the length of the two runways – Runway 4R/22L is 4,870 feet, while Runway 4L/22R is 4,401 feet. A city ordinance requires voter approval to allow available funds to be spent on extending the runway, a regulation that Walkup said is hampering increasing the value of Chandler Municipal. Extending one of the runways to more than 5,000 feet would “open the barn door” for business aircraft and explosive growth at the airport, he said.

Stacy Howard, NBAA’s western regional representative, applauded Chandler city officials and the economic development office for their support of the airport. “Chandler Airport is an invaluable asset to the city, and has great potential for increased business aviation activity,” she said. “We commend the efforts of city officials to promote the airport and encourage job and business growth.”

Mackay plans to announce new airport businesses in the near future, and hopes other FBOs may be interested in considering CHD to compliment Chandler Air Service.

“We are ready for a growth explosion,” said Mackay. “I don’t think anyone will recognize the airport five years from now.”