JANUARY 4, 1999
Decades ago, World War II training planes eased off a single landing strip in north Scottsdale and sailed over miles of desolate desert basin. Today, streams of sleek corporate jets roar from Scottsdale Municipal Airport, ascending above warehouses and superstores and banking over the rooftops, cars and golf tees of northeast Phoenix.
The once local airfield has morphed into an exclusive but bustling corporate hub. And it has become the center of a debate, reignited recently after a mid-air collision killed two pilots and showered apartments and golf greens with debris. "There's lots more aircraft in the sky at any one time. Because of that and the surrounding community growing up, they are much more likely to have accidents like they did," said Don Hopkins, an airport neighbor and longtime airport critic.
The 305-acre Scottsdale airport is considered one of the nation's busiest single-runway airports and the busiest corporate-jet facility in the state.
When the Valley landed the Super Bowl in 1996, the airport landed a victory as well. Corporate and private fliers used the suburban strip to park their planes. The airport has since maintained its status as a first-class airfield with easy access to amenities and business.
It has emerged as the Valley's airport of choice for tycoons, movie stars and prime ministers because of its small, private setting and proximity to resorts. Airport officials say the likes of Margaret Thatcher, actor Patrick Swayze and golf great Greg Norman have landed there. But all is not perfect in the neighborhoods across Scottsdale Road in Phoenix, west of the airport.
Tom Previte, a Phoenix resident who calls the airport several times a month complaining about noise, said he has given up fighting Scottsdale. "We are moving out," he said.
Previte and others acknowledge that the airport was in the neighborhood first. "But it wasn't the same airport. It's a different makeup of planes," Previte said.
Neighbors say they feel jilted after years of promises from late leaders Herb Drinkwater and Barry Goldwater to keep the airport small. Hopkins said the current administration is ignoring pledges made by Drinkwater to maintain the airport's small-town function.
"This is a small group of very elite and very influential people who are dumping their noise garbage and the accident garbage in the surrounding areas," he said. Hopkins said the Nov. 21 collision is an example of the danger of flying over populated areas. "I don't know what you can do, unless you build a concrete bunker over your house," Hopkins said.
Scottsdale businessman Richard Chappell, 49, and Scottsdale neurologist Andrew Matheson, 48, were killed in the crash west of Scottsdale Airpark, an industrial park. Tempe flight instructor Eric Swiatek, 22, was injured. The plane carrying Swiatek and Matheson apparently clipped the tail of Chappell's plane, sending both to the ground.
The Federal Aviation Administration is installing a new radar system at the airport, which will track planes from the ground up. The current radar system, which is based out of Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, is blocked by Camelback Mountain and cannot track planes below 3,500 feet.
On a recent morning, jets and propeller planes lined the tarmac at the airport. Fans who were leaving the Valley after attending Monday's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl loaded luggage, and trucks furiously pumped jet fuel into the planes.
Four hundred planes now are based at the airport, which had 208,464 takeoffs and landings in 1998.
Source: The Arizona Republic (copyright)