Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is flying high with an economic impact of nearly $500 million in 2007-08, according to an Arizona State University study released Tuesday.
"A little over 15 years ago ... the U.S. Government announced that they were going to close Williams Air Force Base, and we wondered what will we do without Willie," said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. "It was doom and gloom. We never imagined how we could survive with the Air Force vacating this facility."
Gateway is now supporting more than 4,500 jobs in its service area, the ASU report said.
Local officials gathered at the airport Tuesday to release the study and celebrate the role that Allegiant Air, the airport's only regularly scheduled airline, plays in the its success.
"They have confidence and faith not only in the present, but the future of Gateway, Smith said.
About a year ago, Allegiant Air announced it would begin offering flights out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway, and now has two planes at the airport. It recently agreed to loan the airport $3 million to expand the terminal to accommodate more planes, and has aggressive expansion plans in terms of flights and employees.
"We will have (flown) approximately 180,000 passengers by the end of the first year, and we expect that to double with four planes to the mid-to-high-300,000s a year," said Maurice Gallagher, Allegiant's CEO. "We'll add one more airplane by Thanksgiving and then the fourth airplane on or about Feb. 1 when construction will be finished."
The $3 million terminal expansion will include a new departure lobby, courtyard seating area, and changes to the existing building to increase passenger capacity.
"Right now, we have approximately 70 people here in flight attendants, pilots and ground staff," Gallagher said. "With two airplanes more, we'll double the size of our population personnel-wise."
Neither Gateway nor Mesa will have to repay the $3 million loan because the airline will collect $4 for every passenger it flies in and out of the airport, he said.
"The city doesn't have any obligation to pay us unless a customer comes through," Gallagher said. "And after 10 years, with for whatever reason things don't work out ... the loan is forgiven. This is a win-win situation."
While economic conditions are hurting other airlines, Allegiant has had 22 consecutive quarters of profitability, he said.
"A lot of our cities where our customers originate have not had the financial impact ... that we've seen around the country," Gallagher said. "We're not in the suburban belts where a lot of the housing problems have been."
Lynn Kusy, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway's executive director, said the airport has been and continues to be busy with construction projects.
"We have in the last several years built about 10 new buildings and we have about six more under construction right now," he said. "And we have about five more projects that have been approved by the Williams Gateway Airport Authority Board of Directors and are in some phase of design. Our visitor traffic continues to grow."