By Bob Shane
On Feb. 23, 2003, history was made with the takeoff of Williams Gateway Airport’s first commercial airline flight. Harrah’s Laughlin Casino put the $99 vacation package together, which included round-trip airfare and room accommodations for two nights.
Allegiant Air, based in Fresno, Calif., provided the MD-87 aircraft, which carries 130 passengers. The first flight was sold out in two days.
Passengers for the flight to Laughlin gathered in the airport’s newly renovated 22,000-square-foot terminal. With four ticket counters and four passenger gates, it can accommodate 500 passengers. The terminal’s friendlier environment seems to make for a more enjoyable airport experience. Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker even had a ticket for the airport’s first airline flight.
“We are thrilled to have Harrah’s charter service to Laughlin,” said Steve Berman, the airport’s chairman and Gilbert mayor. “This is only the beginning of what will be a long list of airlines using Williams Gateway. Soon many others will want to take advantage of the
convenience Gateway has to offer.”
Queen Creek Mayor Wendy Feldman-Kerr said, “We’re very excited. Laughlin is a very popular vacation spot, and I’m sure the charters will always be full and the service will keep growing.”
Williams Gateway Airport, located in Mesa, 20 miles southeast of Phoenix, is owned and operated by the Williams Gateway Airport Authority. The WGAA includes the city of Mesa, the towns of Gilbert and Queen Creek, and the Gila Indian Community. It is officially classified as a reliever airport in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. This means that it is expected to relieve Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as an alternate landing site for commercial aircraft. Since its inception, following the closure of Williams Air Force Base in 1993, the airport has created 3,000 jobs offsetting the economic loss sustained when the base closed.
The WGAA projects that by the year 2020 there will be 13,000 jobs and it will have a $965 million impact on the local economy. To achieve these goals, there are a number of capital improvements in the works and projected, which include an $11 million taxiway and cargo ramp scheduled for completion this spring. The airport has been focusing on bringing new air cargo airlines to Arizona. A second terminal is planned to meet increased demand when the San Tan Freeway stretch of the 202 will loop around the airport in 2006.
On Feb. 18, 2002, Gateway opened a new U.S. Customs office. The U.S. Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will operate the office jointly. Having an office on site is a necessary service for future business development.
Gateway’s first flight and opening of a U.S. Customs facility were significant milestones in the strategic development plan for the airport. Executive Director Lynn Kusy expects passenger flights to be a daily occurrence within the next two years. By the way, did I mention the fact that parking is convenient and free!