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New Phoenix Air Terminal Has California Link

December 16, 1990|DON G. CAMPBELL | Campbell is a Phoenix free-lance writer.

PHOENIX — It was a bumpy, dusty, overnight automobile trip from the Los Angeles area to this desert city of 29,000 souls 60 years ago--in case anyone cared to make the journey. Few did.

And when a Navy squadron from San Diego planned to fly over to Phoenix for an aerial gunnery ceremony in the early '30s, a young, local aviation enthusiast named Barry M. Goldwater obliged by enlisting a friend, borrowing a tractor and a drag from a Japanese farmer and carving a landing strip for the visitors in the middle of an abandoned lettuce patch.

Today the lettuce patch is Sky Harbor International Airport--the 14th busiest and, if Federal Aviation Administration projections prove correct, this decade's fastest-growing airport in the country.

On Nov. 11, it unveiled its brand-new $280-million, 2-million-square-foot terminal, named for the 81-year-old retired U.S. senator who jockeyed that tractor so long ago.

For Southern Californians, the new terminal, officially the Barry M. Goldwater Terminal 4, will be almost impossible to avoid. Of the 20.7 million passengers who passed through Sky Harbor last year, about 3.1 million were coming from, or going to, California.

By best estimates, that is roughly 85% of the entire California traffic since the new terminal will be dominated by the two airlines which currently have a stranglehold on that market. They are America West Airlines, which services 14 California cities and which accounts for 138 of America's 187 daily departures from Sky Harbor, and Southwest Airlines, which has 115 round-trip flights between Phoenix and Los Angeles, Ontario and San Diego.

"Actually," said America West spokesperson Daphne Dicino, "85% of the California traffic is probably too conservative when you take into account the California passengers who will pass through Terminal 4 as a hub for connecting flights."

The new seven-level terminal--which includes four levels of parking with 3,400 spaces, expandable to two more levels and a total capacity of 6,000 vehicles--is twice the size of Sky Harbor's next-largest terminal, No. 3, which was completed in 1979.

In all, nearly 1,000 jetliners a day take off or land at Sky Harbor via the 17 airline tenants occupying it. By the year 2007, according to Federal Aviation Administration estimates, the Phoenix facility will be the seventh-busiest airport in the country, serving 40 million passengers a year, twice its current traffic.

With a dual roadway traffic pattern separating loading and unloading areas, the Barry M. Goldwater Terminal 4 has four times the curb space of the not-all-that-old Terminal 3, which opens into five concourses with a total of 48 domestic gates and four international arrival gates.

And yet, Terminal 4 spokesmen say, in spite of the apparent vastness of the terminal, escalators, elevators and pedestrian bridges with moving walkways intimately connect the concourses, and no two points in the 2.3-million-square-foot terminal are more than an easy 10-minute walk apart. For passengers in a hurry, tickets can be bought at any gate in addition to the ticket counters or at automatic ticket machines.

For Californians, the new Terminal 4 will be an interesting front-row seat on one of the most competitive battles between two airlines in the country--the two lines that dominate the California market. The no-frills Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas, staked out the California market in 1982, but, only a year later, the aggressive, Tempe, Ariz.-based America West zeroed in on the same target. There erupted a fare-cutting shooting match that the opening of Terminal 4 has only intensified.

Until Nov. 11, America West had a distinct competitive edge by being located in the still-glossy Terminal 3, while Southwest remained stuck in the 37-year-old, antiquated Terminal 1. Since then, both airlines have moved into the Barry M. Goldwater Terminal.

Southwest now occupies two concourses with 16 gates, and the thinly padded gloves between the two contestants are off. (The pre-dedication special section of the Arizona Republic featured full-page advertisements by both airlines sniping at each other.) The creaky Terminal 1 is slated for the wrecker's ball in short order.

The same comfortable, desert-toned artwork that gave Terminal 3 its reputation for beauty and serenity has been extended to Terminal 4. The work of more than 2,000 artists was reviewed before $2 million in commissions were granted to 16 applicants. The work of painters, photographers and sculptors--for prices ranging from $4,800 to $250,000--now festoons the new terminal, from diaper-changing rooms to lobbies and escalator walls.

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