Far(ther) from the madding crowd

Yogi Berra, the malapropos-prone baseball player, once declined an invitation to a popular New York restaurant because “it’s so crowded, no one goes there any more.” With airports, could that be the case? Not in Phoenix, where the main airport’s getting crowded. But ‘Don’t build a new runway. Buy another airport,’ was the idea city fathers and mothers at Phoenix had when they saw that Sky Harbor, the number seven US airport, was getting jammed up despite massive expansion plans that added terminals and taxiways. Surrounded on three sides by highways and railroads, the airport is instead going to rely on an airport about 30 miles way on the other side of town, the Williams Gateway Airport. Phoenix pledged to spend as much as $11.5 million on promoting and building up Williams through the government groups that own it. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon says the investment will “allow us to help make Gateway a successful reliever airport”.

There’s plenty of room at Williams Gateway, a converted former Air Force base that now has commercial flights only on tiny Vision, which flies Dornier turboprops to the Las Vegas area four days a week. It’s a little unclear through just how the plan will work. How would Phoenix persuade a carrier to split its flights between the two airports? Or how would Phoenix persuade a carrier to fly only to Williams rather than to the larger and far better known Sky Harbor? The city fathers are hoping that the explosive population growth in the Phoenix area, supported by a recently opened highway adjacent to Williams, will eventually make it a logical choice and that niche carriers larger than Vision will choose it.


They point to the development of alternative airports in snarled Southern California, where a once under-used place like Ontario airport grew rapidly after its affiliation with the larger Los Angeles International (LAX). A cargo carrier’s choice to operate there helped spur Ontario, and as Southern California‘s population multiplies, it eventually had enough of a catchments area to support its own flights, and add ‘international’ to its title. Along the way it’s been using the hassles of LAX as a marketing tool, with slogans such as ‘Fly Ontario. We won’t gridlock you.’ Perhaps eventually Phoenix could be paying for ads urging people not to use its airport (“Don’t come here. It’s nicer at our other airport”).

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