Making Phoenix a global city

Having a global airport and air connectivity can have major benefits for a city’s economy and urban development, but at the moment Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport has very few international flights.

Right now, Sky Harbor has 23 nonstop international destinations, but only two are transatlantic and none go to Asia or Oceania.

“Sometimes I say it in a sort of joking way, but the best way to get more international flights is if all of us booked flight tickets on those existing flights,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said at a Global Chamber event. “It really does make a difference [when] you’re flying internationally if you can try to book the international leg out of Sky Harbor and not fly to Los Angeles and get on a plane there.” 

Not only are direct flights quicker, they decrease the risks of traveling.

A nonstop flight reduces the risk involved in air travel such as a plane experiencing technical issues, missing a connecting flight and being confused by the logistics of an extra airport. 

Investing in nonstop international flights can also help business leaders meet face-to-face, which would create a trickling effect of economic development in the airport’s surrounding area.

“Increasing the number and quality of direct air links to a given city could spur the development of connections linking businesses in that city to other businesses elsewhere, which would in turn foster economic activity at the local level, via increased productivity or access to capital,” the National Bureau of Economic Research reports.

Right now, Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the United States and Maricopa County is the fastest-growing county in the nation. 

According to Gary Leff, chief financial officer for the Institute for Humane Studies and “frequent travel expert,” due to the lack of international traffic directly from Phoenix Sky Harbor, airlines cannot justify nonstop flights to Europe or Asia. Instead it serves as a convenient connection.

But Gallego is dedicated to making Phoenix a global city. 

“I think investment in the airport is one of the most important things we can do,” Gallego said. “During my time as mayor, we’ve already added a few international flights.” 

Since Gallego was sworn in as mayor, Sky Harbor has added nonstop flights to and from: Montreal, Canada; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; and Chihuahua, Mexico. 

Earlier this year American Airlines also announced the airline’s first domestic nonstop flight between Phoenix and London, a service previously only offered in partnership with British Airways.

While the flight was announced before Gallego’s inauguration, she was in office for its first flight.

In June, the Phoenix City Council voted to send Sky Harbor’s Comprehensive Asset Management Plan to the Federal Aviation Administration for review and approval. 

According to Sky Harbor, the plan includes moving cargo and support operations to the north side to create room for expanded terminals; working with Union Pacific Railroad to trench a taxiway bridge so planes can access the relocated cargo operations; and providing space for the Air National Guard 161st Refueling wing to expand.

“We have stepped up and said we have to invest in that economic engine, so we’re building larger gates that can accommodate larger aircraft,” Gallego said. “We’ll still have the same high standards about great local food and beverage, so that when you do have those international visitors, as soon as they get to the airport, they can get a taste of what makes Phoenix so special.”

Richard Florida, co-founder of CityLab, found that airports play a considerable role in economic development and their most important role is “moving people and ideas.” According to Gallego,  it is important for Arizonans to book nonstop international flights out of Sky Harbor in order for the airport to continue getting them.

“We want to show we’re a global city and that people want to fly globally out of Phoenix… It really does matter if people are supporting that service,” Gallego said.

Emily Richardson

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