The 11-year crusade to lure passenger service to Williams Gateway Airport has been led by airport employees and local politicians.
Now, it’s Joe and Jane Coach Section’s turn.
Airport officials are at full speed in their drive to get 10,000 people to answer surveys encouraging airlines to fly into the southeast Mesa airport, while at the same time letting the airlines know their favorite destinations.
They’re talking to community groups, and preparing an ad to be shown during the slide shows at four East Valley Harkins movie theaters.
They want to hear from people such as Kelly Isley of Chandler, who spends two weeks of every month traveling across the country for her aerospace consulting firm.
She said she would love to be able to fly to Miami, Fla., and Washington, D.C., from Williams Gateway, rather than use congested Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
"Getting in and out of there takes so long and it takes time away from your family, or your clients," she said. "Time is a huge factor, and that translates into quality of life."
So far, the most popular cities are Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago, choices Williams Gateway director Lynn Kusy said pretty closely follow Sky Harbor’s traffic patterns.
After marketing manager John Barry came on board last October to take over the airport’s courtship of some 30 different airlines, he saw there was a database of business interests the airport had been working with, but no similar list of interested residents who might be potential passengers.
So he came up with the survey, which took off during an open house this spring that drew about 4,000 people to the airport.
"People actually had to stand in line to fill out the surveys, as well as register for the prizes that we were handing out," Barry said. About 200 paper surveys were distributed at the open house, he said, and "we ran out of them a couple of times."
Since then, the majority of survey responses have been through the airport’s Web site at www.flywga.org.
Airport spokesman Brian Sexton talks to community groups to get people to answer the survey.
"It’s a wonderful way for people to get involved in developing the East Valley’s airport," he said. Williams Gateway is near Power and Ray roads in Mesa, and near the Gilbert and Queen Creek borders.
Sexton said he’s heard from a handful of people who don’t want any kind of passenger service at Williams, for noise or other concerns.
Nick Flower of the Gold Canyon Concerned Citizens Group said most of the people who saw Sexton’s presentation last month would prefer air service at Williams Gateway, particularly on weekends when they have to deal with U.S. 60 bottlenecks created by the Renaissance Festival or other special events.
"When it takes three or four hours to get to (Sky Harbor), we’d gladly drive south on Power (Road) to Willy," he said, using the nickname of the old Williams Air Force Base.
Barry said nearly all of the survey responses are from East Valley residents, except for about 80 from Rockford, Ill., sent in by a group of winter residents.
These people may get their wish first. Of the four airlines with which he’s working most closely, Barry said Georgiabased TransMeridian has given the "warmest" response, and may be able to schedule weekend service from Mesa to the Illinois city, which advertises itself as a reliever for Chicago’s airports.
This service would be limited, he said, but "that’s probably the way any direct airline service would start, unless somebody feels, like we do, that there’s a significant amount of interest, and if they tried a Las Vegas or San Diego service, they wouldn’t have any problem filling those planes up."
Colin Wheeler, TransMeridian vice president of scheduling and planning, said the airline is studying the East Valley along with other markets.
He said the airport’s surveys have helped Williams Gateway make their case.
"We’re very impressed with our dealings with the airport," he said.