Laughlin-Bullhead International Airport
landing operational upgrades to fly through 2023
With businesses opportunities taking off; it is full throttle for Laughlin-Bullhead International Airport
Serving as a gateway to a stunning area of the country, Laughlin-Bullhead International Airport is helping put Mohave County, Nev., on the map as a tourism destination airport. In 2011, it was named Airport of the Year by the Arizona Department of Transportation, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
We recently spoke with airport director James Scheller, and he told us more about the commercial-service and general aviation facility he so proudly serves. Laughlin-Bullhead International Airport’s Identifier is “IFP,” which the local community has dubbed the “International Fun Place.” The airport is a premier destination for aviation, tourism, business, and fun—truly an oasis in the desert. A little over 600 feet above sea level, the airport features a commercial terminal, FBO service, helicopter parking, parking for general aviation, a fire station, and more.
Scheller says the airport and its FBO, Signature Flight Support, have both tie-down and hangar space for based and transient customers. A capital-improvement plan for the airport includes the construction of ten (10) nested T-hangars, which will be an FAA-funded project, as Scheller pointed out.
As far as the commercial aspect goes, Scheller cited the airport’s submission of its Small-Community Air-Service Development (SCASD) grant for $800,000. The airport staffers are awaiting the announcement of its SCASD grant submission which the anticipated announcement should be by the end of August 2023.
Like Las Vegas, Reno, and most of Nevada, Mohave County’s neighbor of Laughlin, NV is well known for its casino lifestyle. Serving these leisure venues and the airport as a big player in commercial air service is Sun Country Airlines, as Scheller informs. Sun Country offers the airport’s surrounding area with air charter group services which offer vacation goers a variety of activities for the whole family. Sun Country has the industry regulatory authority to travel to most destinations in the world, so if you pick them, you’ve got a winning hand.
“Their operations are very tight,” Scheller remarks, adding that the partnership between the casinos and the airline is a thing the latter “has been quite successful at. We’re very conscious of the fact that as Sun Country grows its business, the airport structurally must grow. This means the actual, physical buildings must grow to accommodate (increased passengers).”
Sun Country Airlines, with its Boeing 737-800s serve the Riverside Resort and Harrah’s Laughlin. Also, the airport is the main base for Air Methods/Tri-State CareFlight, a helicopter and fixed-wing air ambulance company known for saving countless lives in emergencies.
Scheller adds that airport leadership is quite keen on improving customer experience. More space at the airport is the name of the game for everyone, including customers, Sun Country, and other such commercial airlines alike. Given the length of the runway of 8,501 feet, Scheller speculates that the average annual temperatures and runway length would allow 70-seat regional aircraft to run throughout the entire year. Future airport development plans call for expanding the runway by 900 feet, thus making it better able to accommodate larger airplanes year-round. Scheduled-service airline flights would be a major boom to the community, as Scheller observes.
“Because the community is growing,” he says. “We’re seeing the biggest rate of housing construction in this area, then the past seven years. This airport is a gateway for the community to take an airline for their vacation, and for visitors to fly in and immediately enjoy the Colorado River basin.”
In addition, Scheller points out that at this time people in the southern Nevada and Arizona area who are seeking to book a commercial passenger flight are obliged to drive an hour and 40 minutes to Las Vegas, as Scheller points out, and this can be a real hassle for those who frequently travel.
“People don’t realize this,” he adds, “but if you’re being dropped off at a distant airport, the person driving you must drive out there and then come back, which adds to the cost of the travel.”
Or there’s also Phoenix, which is a whopping three and a half hours away.
“That’s a five-hour round trip,” Scheller points out, citing drivers dropping off their loved ones for passenger flights. “It’s long, and it’s dangerous at times, especially with a hot sun and (dicey) cell phone connections.”
To this end, the Laughlin-Bullhead International Airport is vital to many people. Indeed, as Scheller notes, the FAA considers it an indispensable component of the combined tri-state airway systems, given its distance from primary commercial-service airports.
He also cites his many encounters with members of the general public. When he tells them that he’s the airport director, the first question he gets asked is always the same:
“‘When are we going to get commercial service?’” he recalls, adding that residents in this part of southern Nevada and Arizona “absolutely want commercial service here.”
The interest and demand is there to make commercial service a reality, as Scheller emphasizes. It’s all just a question of when.
Scheller also cites the airport as an opportune place for having educational institutions, such as the Mohave Community College, which could within the context of creating a curriculum with an aviation career path. Such a thing could ultimately lead students to a degree in aviation management or to a flight school to train to become professional pilots.
This could go a long way to helping, at least on the local level, alleviate a national problem: a dearth of air traffic controllers, aircraft mechanics, and qualified pilots in the United States. An internship program, coordinated between the college and the airport, is another potential. Becoming an airplane mechanic is another potential career possibility, as is pursuing airport marketing, or any skill that has an aeronautical focus as Scheller adds.
“There are so many career opportunities to get people interested in working at the airport,” he notes.
Returning to the topics of capital improvements and airport infrastructure, Scheller says, “Right now, Sun Country, with its charter service, is comfortable with the length of the runway,” he adds, continuing, that yet, he hasn’t received any letter of intent from a major commercial airline which would justify an immediate need of a runway extension. “I’m not going to get excited about extending the runway until I am certain the airport terminal can handle the number of passengers a larger aircraft will accommodate.”
Also, part of the airport’s capital-improvement plan is the installation of a MALSR system, as Scheller reveals, situated at the end of the runway to guide aircraft in and down. The acronym stands for “medium-intensity approach lighting system (ALS) for runways.”
They are installed in airport runway approach zones along the extended centerline of the runway. MALSRs consist of a combination of steadily burning light bars and flashers that provide pilots with visual information on runway alignment, height perception, roll guidance, and horizontal references to support the visual portion of an instrument approach. Such things are very helpful concerning low visibility and inclement weather.
“This area is very dark at night,” he adds. “There’s not a lot of city lights near the airport that define the airport property’s terrain during times of low visibility.”
Then there’s repaving. Scheller says Taxiway Alpha is scheduled to have its pavement improved. This is also an FAA-funded project. The control tower may get a facelift as well, as an assessment of the Control Tower’s needs is being planned for FY2024. Scheller cites cosmetic and possible structural improvements will be reviewed to upgrade the tower.
Many people have complimented Laughlin-Bullhead for the quality of its concessions. But the airport’s leadership is committed to improving this as well. Scheller says more snack machines will be installed, enabling passengers to get some substantial food (sandwiches, chicken wraps, salads, and more) when the café in the gate-hold area is closed. As well, customers coming in on late flights and waiting for the bus will be able to take advantage of new massage chairs—especially soothing after a long flight.
More about Scheller
Scheller fondly recalls his career flight path.
He started in the Connecticut National Guard, more than 40 years ago. He then joined the United States Marine Corps and became an aviation life-support systems technician. This allowed him to be exposed to all aircraft platforms the Marine Corps had to offer. Going from Harrier jets to Cobra helicopters to F-18s, and more. Prior to receiving his officer commission, he earned a B.S. in Aviation Management at the Marine Corps’ off-campus program through Southern Illinois University. A topic of particular interest for him was Airport Properties.
Today, as Scheller says, he is living the fulfillment of his childhood ambition. He loves working for the Mohave County Airport Authority, and he praises its staff and Board of Directors for their trust and support, and no-worries approach to the highly evolved relationship everyone shares.
“They’re very professional, calm, and collected,” he observes. “I trust the people I work with, and more importantly, I’m earning their trust. I respect the work that each employee is doing here. Each one has the airport’s best interest in mind which is displayed daily.”
“With my experience, I think what I bring to IFP is a lot of the FAA regulatory aspects to the airport which is just one skill I polish each day,” he adds. “The board is not there to interpret the regulatory policies. They’re there to oversee the direction and vision of the airport, as well as the fiscal component.”
In addition to the Casinos’ connection to the Laughlin-Bullhead Int’l Airport also sees a lot of rock bands that arrive on private jets. Scheller cites Journey and ZZ Top, as a couple of recent examples. The band’s pilot currently parks the corporate jet on the ramp, which Scheller says he hopes to one day have hangar space for these larger corporate jets. The larger hangar space can offer discrete ground transportation transfers and allow the jet to achieve a cooler cabin temperature.
Scheller’s goal is to improve the customer experience for the commercial airlines and the general aviation community. In doing so, the by-product of the improved customer service will ultimately be an increase in annual revenue. This, he says, is a team effort.
“Running an Airport is a team sport,” he declares.
AT A GLANCE
Laughlin-Bullhead International Airport
What: Growing airport with infrastructure upgrades to meet increased aviation traffic
Where: Laughlin, Nevada
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