By David Pittman –
Tucson International Airport Making Big Changes
Tucson International Airport is making big changes in the air with new service to New York and Mexico. At the same time there also are big changes on the ground, some already in place and more to come in 2017.
The “international” is back at Tucson International Airport with round-trip commercial airline flights connecting Tucson to Hermosillo and other Mexican destinations once again.
Aeromar Airlines, Mexico’s longest-running airline in continuous service, began flying to and from Tucson Oct. 3, ending an eight-year drought of airline service between Tucson and Mexico. It was about the same time a nonstop American Airlines flight from Tucson to New York began service.
After flying nonstop for about an hour from Tucson to Hermosillo, the new air service to Mexico continues to Los Mochis, the gateway to Copper Canyon, then on to the beaches of Mazatlán, and finally to Guadalajara. The addition of the new flights means passengers traveling between Tucson and many Mexican cities will no longer be required to connect at out-of-the-way airports.
At a news conference in August at TIA, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and other dignitaries praised the expansion of air service to and from Mexico and the economic benefits it brings.
“Nonstop flights to Hermosillo – a hub in Mexico’s airline system and the capital of the state of Sonora – are an important development in Tucson’s trade, tourism and cultural exchanges with our neighbors to the south,” Rothschild said.
Bonnie Allin, president and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority, said re-establishing air service into Mexico has been one of TAA’s highest priorities since those routes were terminated around the onset of the Great Recession. “Eight years later we have success,” she said. “Now it will be vitally important for travelers to use these flights.”
Andres Fabre, Aeromar’s CEO, said he is confident air service between Tucson and Mexico will be financially successful or he wouldn’t have brought it here. “We reviewed many opportunities before deciding that Tucson was the best destination for us,” Fabre said. “We will keep close watch on passenger acceptance of the new flights and if demand warrants it, we are prepared to increase the flight frequencies.”
The current flight schedule operates Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday aboard 46-passenger, ATR-42 turboprop jet aircraft that have passenger cabins with two-by-two seating.
Aeromar began international service into the U.S. in 2013 when it began flying to and from McAllen, Texas. The airline announced earlier this year that it was looking at adding strategically targeted destinations in the U.S.
With the addition of Tucson, Aeromar will operate more than 100 daily flights to 41 destinations. Aeromar is a privately owned airline founded in 1987. Its headquarters and operations and maintenance base are at the Mexico City International Airport. Aeromar boasts an on-time performance level of better than 93 percent.
On the ground, the Federal Aviation Administration dedicated the new 252-foot-tall air traffic control tower in September complete with new technology and a new facility for administrative offices. The new tower replaces the iconic tower with the neon “Tucson” vertically aligned on the building. The old tower will be repurposed.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the new tower was part of a nationwide strategy to invest in transportation infrastructure to support the economy.
“We need to continually reinvest in our nation’s air transportation infrastructure to maintain the world’s best – and safest – air transportation system,” Huerta said. “We also believe investment and environmental responsibility are intertwined, and this tower is a prime example of our efforts to be responsible environmental stewards.”
The new tower is about twice the height of the old tower, provides air traffic controllers with better airfield views and makes it easier for them to determine the positions of aircraft on the ground and in the skies around the airport.
“With this new tower, Tucson International Airport takes a major step forward in providing the infrastructure needed to secure and grow economic development opportunities associated with the airfield,” Allin said. “The tower is also an integral part of the commitment by both the FAA and the TAA to maintain the latest safety enhancements at the airport.”
About the same time the tower was dedicated, the TAA Board unanimously approved a number of new contracts for concessions – both retail and food – in a total revamp and expansion of offerings that will mix local businesses with nationally known retailers.
Under the new agreements travelers using the airport will see food and beverage options with local brand names including Beyond Bread, El Charro Café, The Maverick, Noble Hops, Sir Veza’s Taco Garage, Thunder Canyon Brewery and Arbuckle’s Coffee.
For the retail concessions, the Hudson Group, North America’s largest airport retail operator, will be opening shops in the pre- and post-security areas, including Agustín Kitchen Express in the Centre Pointe area of the ticketing level. Post-security retail will include market-style shops, some with Tucson and Arizona themes.
Construction on the new concessions will start in March and is scheduled to be completed in phases though the end of 2017.