Alina Pringle and her husband, Mark, are working to make West Desert Airport (UT9) in Fairfield, Utah, a home for private pilots.
The couple’s development plans to turn the private airport into a residential fly-in community are unique for several reasons, starting with the fact it will be only the second of its kind in Utah, according to Pringle.
“We’ve had several people ask whether [fly-in communities] are common,” Alina Pringle said. “We tell them that it’s common across the United States, but in Utah there is only one other active airpark, and that’s down in the southern part of the state. So, in Utah we are basically going to be No. 2. It’s exciting! We are an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, have a lot of ATV/UTV [all-terrain vehicle/utility terrain vehicle] trails right in our backyard and are about an hour away from the ski resorts.”
The airport itself has been around for some time. Mark Pringle first broke ground at the facility in 2002. At first, there were six hangars and a gravel runway. Since then, 12 additional hangars have been built, along with a paved runway.
Not only will the airpark’s next phase include the residential component, but significant investment is also going into the aviation community’s central feature.
“Our runway is currently pretty short—it’s 2,600-foot long,” said Alina. “Smaller aircraft and light sport aircraft that Mark has built for years [as the owner of Rocky Mountain Kitplanes], and some larger aircraft are open to come in as well. But it does limit it a bit. We have the plans done to lengthen and widen the runway, and it will be a 5,200-foot-long runway that’s about 60 feet wide.”
For those who love to land on grass, like so many of the West Desert Aviators club do, the airpark will cater to that as well. They are working to have the only grass runway in the state, Alina noted. Additionally, West Desert is only an hour from backcountry flying, and the aviation ecosystem in Utah is quite conducive to that type of flying.
“Here, you’re about an hour away from the remote strips,” she said. “Utah is a great supporter of backcountry flying. So, we have a flight school that is located here on the field already, West Desert Flight, that teaches primary training, as well taildragger endorsements and backcountry training.”
When Mark Pringle asked the owner of West Desert Flight about some of the close Utah airstrips that he recommends, he jokingly responded, “Those are secrets you have to come and take my course [to learn].” But he followed up by noting that several of the best places to fly to in the area include Cedar Mountain, Mexican Mountain, Ibex, Mineral Canyon, and Happy Canyon.
With thoughts returning to West Desert Airpark, Alina outlined her and Mark’s current plans for the airport’s future, as well as the on-field residential subdivision.
“We’ve worked hand in hand with Fairfield Town to show that we want the same thing as them,” she said. “And about three years ago we hit pay dirt, then went door-to-door to make sure everyone was on board with an airpark. We have had the land for the runway and the residential development, but it was just last June that the town approved the new rezone that allows for residential development here.
“We have about 30 acres, which we will develop into residential. We are looking at having 26 lots with a clubhouse. So far, we are still forming our [homeowners association] rules. But basically we don’t want there to be too many rules—just enough to keep everybody friends. We will have a certain required size for the home, but it won’t be huge.
“We also currently have 28 hangar buildings here at the airport and are adding on rental hangars, as well as owned hangars now. We are full with a wait list, and so are all of the other airports in Utah. In fact, one of the closest airports to us is on a three- to seven-year wait list, depending on the airplane that you have.”
With a longer runway, Alina anticipates there being an even larger group of potential residents from which to draw.
“We anticipate there being a wide range of owners here at West Desert Airpark, which is what we prefer,” she said. “Our biggest focus is going to be, ‘Do you love aviation?’ Whether that’s flying a Mooney, an aerobatic aircraft, or whether it’s a STOL Rans or a Cub. I want the questions and conversations to be about where you went, what you flew, and how fun it is.”
The hope is for the development’s clubhouse to be a natural place for neighbors to talk with one another, enjoying some hangar flying and good fun.
“Our plans currently include a clubhouse,” Alina said. “There is no water out here. It’s the desert and it’s West Desert Airpark, right? And there are no recreation centers around. So, the idea is to have a gathering area at the approach end of the runway with a patio where you can watch the planes land. There will be a little pool. Itt won’t be huge but somewhere where we have a water feature. Having a pool, possibly a hot tub, and a patio at the clubhouse is what we are thinking.”
In closing, she pointed out there’s a question frequently asked by aviators: How soon can I move in?
“If everything goes according to plan, the new runway will be functional by summer of 2024,” Alina said. “And that’s about the same time that we are looking at residential construction, about a year out, although we will start selling subdivided lots sooner. The smallest that we have subdivided so far is a little over three quarters of an acre, and the rest are a little over an acre.”