Williams Gateway Airport was among the 100 busiest airports in the United States in 2003, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The former Air Force base was the 92nd-busiest airport in the country last year, with more than 182,000 takeoffs and landings. East Valley officials hope the facility will eventually relieve some traffic at the fifth-busiest, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The United States has 19,000 airports, according to a 2003 U.S. Census Bureau report.
Williams Gateway spokesman Brian Sexton said the pace of arrivals and departures has accelerated, and at the current rate the airport will easily top the 200,000 mark this year.
Touch-and-go training done by two flight schools, Silver State Helicopters and ATSI, which trains fighter pilots from around the world, is responsible for much of the increase, Sexton said.
Student pilots learn by repetition, grazing the runway or chopper pad before taking off again.
"To the average person it all looks like one operation, but the control tower counts it as one landing and one takeoff," Sexton said.
The pace is picking up at the same time traffic is flat or declining at other East Valley airfields. Scottsdale Airport had 1,000 fewer takeoffs and landings in 2003 than the year before, while Chandler Municipal Airport’s total dropped by 21,000 during the same period.
Both are still busier than Williams Gateway — there were 219,671 takeoffs and landings in Chandler in 2003, and 194,472 in Scottsdale. The East Valley’s busiest airfield in 2003 was Mesa’s Falcon Field Municipal Airport, with 281,742 operations. All three are general aviation airports, which accommodate smaller planes only.
Williams Gateway Airport Authority director Lynn Kusy said charter service to Harrah’s resorts in Reno and Laughlin, Nev., continues, and during the next six weeks officials will meet with several passenger airlines that are considering adding Williams to their schedule.