Sky Harbor Airport, November 2011. Photos by Tierra Ellis.
3400 East Sky Harbor Boulevard Phoenix, AZ 85034
Growing up in Phoenix I was always intrigued by the airport that seemed to sit right in the middle of my city. It seemed to be a city of its own with its complex highways and growing infrastructure. The planes flying overhead became so regular that as time passed I barely noticed them anymore. They were just a part of my life. I’ve heard stories about the airport, but I’ve never done any research on my own.
Sky Harbor Airport is a major influence in the development of Phoenix, Arizona. Sky Harbor has served as a catalyst of growth for the city, and as the city grows the airport grows. After the expansion of Sky Harbor, the poor Mexican community; the Golden Gate Barrio, was to first to be affected by it (Dimas, 93). South East Phoenix was the location of the Golden Gate Barrio, which in 1930s was a flourishing Latino community that was occupied by small shops and adobe buildings (Dimas, 172). The significance that this prospering community has with the airport is its force from the federal government to relocate in order for Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to expand and economically grow (Dimas, 95).
The location of Sky Harbor airport is another problem that is posed. South Phoenix is where majority of minorities live in Arizona and also where the Sky Harbor’s flight pattern is located. Environmental racism is an issue that these minorities are risked to deal with because of the airport’s location. Redlining in past decades is the root reason to why African Americans and Latinos are heavily populated in South Phoenix. Majority white neighborhoods would not allow Sky Harbor airport to be built close to them out of fear of the air pollution as well as sound pollution. They were able to do this because they were able to gather the funds to protest having Sky Harbor airport built near their neighborhood, whereas people in minority neighborhoods did not have access to these same resources (Bolin, 2).
Sky Harbor came from humble beginnings as a one-runway airport developed in the 1928 by Scenic Airways as a privately owned operation. Sky Harbor was dedicated in 1929 before a crowd of 8000 people. At the time Sky Harbor was on the outskirts of the city and was nicknamed “The Farm.” Scenic Airway’s ownership of Sky Harbor was short due to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and they were forced to abandon the airport. The airport spent a short time under the ownership of ACME Investment Corporation before being bought by The City of Phoenix in 1935 for $100,000. The city had a dedication of its own for Sky Harbor in 1935 and from there the airport began to rise to worldwide prominence.
The end of the 1930’s was modernizing Sky Harbor. Phoenix was investing heavily into the airport with technology, and it was paying off. The addition of a $40,000 two way radio system made the airport attractive to many major area carriers of the time including Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA). TWA began mail and passenger service between San Francisco and Phoenix. By 1940 a host of other cities and airports were added to Sky Harbor’s logistical network (“Phoenix sky harbor,” 2011).
The 1940’s were also wartime for the United States, and Sky Harbor was made headquarters by the US Army. The Army would use Sky Harbor as a place to refuel planes during World War II (“Phoenix sky harbor,” 2011). Sky Harbor was becoming increasingly busy as it ushered in the modern age of flight.
By 1948, Sky Harbor Airport was named the busiest airport in the United States by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Sky Harbor was growing with the city, and the city was growing with Sky Harbor. By 1949 The Arizona National guard leased space for 99 years at the airport. By the 1950’s four main airlines were offering flights in and out of the newly completed Terminal 1 that cost about $800,000 to complete. Terminal 2 was completed in 1962 and cost about 2.7 million dollars to complete. By this time the airport had added international to its name, and was one of the busiest airports in the world. Terminal 3 was completed in 1976 and cost almost 50 million dollars to complete, and Terminal 4 opened in 1990 and cost a “staggering” 248 million dollars to complete (“Phoenix sky harbor,” 2011). It was safe to say the Phoenix realized the importance of this airports growth to the growth of the surrounding city. The once one-runway airport now was bigger than a small city sitting on roughly 3000 acres.
The airport handles around 45 million passengers yearly, which average out to about 108,000 passengers a day. Statistically it is the 18th busiest airport in the world. There are over 30,000 parking spaces allocated to the airport to serve its passengers and employee needs.
Significantly, Sky Harbor is a catalyst to the economic prosperity of its surrounding community. The City of Phoenix has grown around Sky Harbor, and it seems to sit right in the middle of the city, and can be accessed from almost every major highway. The airport is essentially the well-being of Phoenix’s Tourism Industry which plays heavily on Phoenix’s 300 plus days of sunshine a year (“Phoenix sky harbor,” 2011). From golf courses to shopping centers to zoos Phoenix has something to offer anyone looking to visit and its residents. Phoenix is an escape for the snowbirds that chose to abandon their winter climates for the seemingly more favorable low 70 average during Phoenix’s “winter.” Sky Harbor International Airport is a catalyst to Phoenix, Arizona and helped the city rise to prominence.
- Tierra Ellis
Jones, Pamela. "1935 and The Farm -- Sky Harbor's Early Years and Memories."
www.skyharbor.com. N.p., 08 30 2010. Web. 29 Nov 2011.
“USA Airports - North America Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) History, Facts and Overview (Phoenix, Arizona - AZ, USA).” www.phoenix-phx.airports-guides.com. N.p., 11 27 2011. Web. 29 Nov 2011.
Phoenix Airport (PHX) Information: Airport in Phoenix Area, AZ, USA. Web. 11 29
Dimas, Pete R. Progress and A Mexican American Community’s Struggle for Existence. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. Print.
Bolin, Bob. "The Geography of Despair: Environmental Racism." Research in Human Ecology 12.2 (2005): 156-68. Print.