Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport expanding niche as Valley’s other airport
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Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport expanding niche as Valley’s other airport

MESA – For some East Valley residents, the close proximity of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport has made it an attractive alternative to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

For Mesa resident Ronda Pavlenko, however, it was the affordable direct flight to Fargo, N.D.

“Before, we’d have to fly into Minneapolis and then get on a smaller plane to get to Fargo, so it was very convenient when they started flying to Fargo,” Pavlenko said.

Since 2007, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, formerly Williams Air Force Base, has established itself as a reliever airport, providing travelers with options they can’t get from Sky Harbor. Its three discount carriers, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, offer flights to more than 30 cities including Las Vegas, Bellingham, Wash., Peoria, Ill., and soon Denver and Honolulu.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said Gateway acts as a niche airport and the goal isn’t to compete with Sky Harbor.

“It’s intended to build traffic,” Smith said. “We’ve seen that at the airport with the new areas we’re serving, with the unique services out of Gateway Airport. We’re bringing new travelers into the market.”

Allegiant strives to serve underserved cities, according to spokesman Carl Zablotny.

“It’s a conscious effort to go to these cities and offer them destinations they probably ordinarily couldn’t get to,” Zablotny said.

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Patrick Oakley, the airport’s community relations coordinator, said as a result of the airline’s business model Allegiant has captured a unique set of travelers in Arizona.

“We think that these folks would not have traveled because of the hassle of connecting and the added expense,” Oakley said. “They’ve actually created those travelers who weren’t there before.”

Like Pavlenko, who saved nearly $200 by flying to Fargo with Allegiant, many passengers consider airfare one of their biggest factors when flying. Allegiant offers fares at around $200 where other airlines offer them at nearly twice the amount, according to Zablotny.

“That makes a difference because you’re attracting a market of residents in the Mesa area who might not otherwise afford a trip like that,” he said.

Lee McPheters, economics research professor at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said that because flights go out to colder cities, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway sees most of its traffic between February and April.

“These are more tourists, some of them are part-time residents,” he said.

McPheters, who studied the economic impact of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway in fiscal year 2010, said that much of Arizona’s outside dollars come from these travelers.

While Allegiant created a niche for secondary markets, it started service from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway to Las Vegas in 2011 and recently announced Honolulu flights that will begin in February. Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines will also start service to Denver in the fall. Both McPheters and Oakley expect Gateway’s passenger base to become more diverse because of these added destinations.

Smith called the Honolulu and Denver flights milestones for Gateway because those are preferred travel destinations. Having daily flights to major hubs, he said, allows easier access to the rest of the world.

“It’s more than just a novelty,” he said. “It’s a real airport that can connect with not only every major U.S. city but many smaller destinations.”

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Meanwhile, the airport is sticking with its motto of “just plane easy.”

“Even though there’s a wider variety of destinations, I don’t think you’ll see a change in our approach, and you certainly won’t see a change in the way services are offered at Gateway,” Smith said.

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Caroline Porter/Cronkite News Service

Passengers line up for service at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.