As most news-savvy readers know, there is a looming crisis in our air transportation
industry, and that crisis is not enough pilots. There are several factors that have caused this situation, and whole articles have been written about the root cause of this problem. It is not my intent to explore what has been written about countless times in the past few years. Instead, I am going to look at how this crisis is affecting Prescott and our airport.
The most direct impact all users of the airport will see is the largest class ever of incoming aviation students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. In 2018, the numbers were approximately 170 students. This incoming class is approaching 300 students. Furthermore, Embry-Riddle is upgrading its training fleet with more airplanes, so it’s a safe bet that air operations at the airport will climb by a significant number.
More students at Embry-Riddle will also mean more business for numerous other Prescott businesses. From apartments, to restaurants, to entertainment – all these new students will mean more money being spent in the local economy.
I would also be making a safe bet, too, that Embry-Riddle’s faculty will be expanding where they can to handle this large influx of new students, particularly in the aviation program. These are new jobs in the community in addition to the jobs that the students will be looking for.
The increase in students at Embry-Riddle will also mean other flight schools such as Leighnor Aircraft and North-Aire will be expanding their operations as well. One of the challenges every new pilot must face is building flight time experience to be able to get to the next certificate or rating. Both Leighnor Aircraft and North-Aire see many Embry-Riddle students using their aircraft to build time to get to the next step in the student’s aviation career.
I cannot speak for other company’s expansion plans, but I can safely state in this article that Leighnor Aircraft’s fleet size will double by the time this article goes to print. Part of our expansion will allow for additional training capabilities as well.
SkyWest Airlines is also expanding flights around the holidays this year to allow more holiday travelers to get to the destinations of their choice. If you haven’t experienced just how easy it is to get on a flight at Prescott, I strongly urge you to give it a try. Just avoiding the trip down I-17 is worth it!
The airline also continues to see very high load factors (how full the plane really is) and most of us around the airport figure it is just a matter of time before additional flights and/or additional destinations will be added.
We also have the new terminal building breaking ground very shortly, perhaps by the time this article goes to print. This new facility will help maintain the growth that the airport is currently experiencing and will continue to drive the expansion of the Quad Cities area.
The last point to make about future growth is that it’s likely to continue. Yes, there may be some level of economic disruption around the presidential election next year, but no one knows, and it will probably be short-term if it happens. What is known is that our current pilots are aging out of their careers. For those of you who may not know, an airline pilot retires at age 65, regardless of health status. A pilot may do other commercial activities, but air transport is not one of them.
My last word is to all the people who may be reading this article and are moving to the Prescott area. There are a lot of new homes being built in very close proximity to the airport – in fact, right under airport traffic patterns.
When you look at these homes and see the document you must sign to acknowledge the fact that you’re close to an airport, please understand this airport ranks currently between Portland International and Oakland International for numbers of flight operations. If having lots of small aircraft overhead bothers you, please simply look somewhere else for a new home. You and the aviation community will both be happier. QCBN
By Lance Leighnor
Lance Leighnor has four decades of experience in general aviation aircraft, and active management of rental aircraft since 2011. Lance is the managing member of Leighnor Aircraft. He can be reached by phone at 928-499-3080, by email at lance@LeighnorAircraft.com or via the Leighnor Aircraft website at LeighnorAircraft.com.