An Airport for the Future

$1.5 Billion Investment in  TUS Over Next Decade

By Jay Gonzales

If you have a window seat flying in or out of Tucson International Airport over the next few years, you should peek outside to see the future.

Over the next decade, the airport – TUS – will likely undergo a major expansion and overhaul with a runway project already underway and the start of a major terminal expansion. In all, it’s a roughly $1.5 billion investment in the airport for these two projects.

“We started a study about a year ago and we wanted to see what the design would be for our projections,” said Danette Bewley, president and CEO of Tucson Airport Authority, now in its 75th year operating TUS. “What will it look like in 10 years? What will it look like in 20, 30 and 40 years? Our plan is scalable based on demand and the growth of the region.

“We are already finding that we have some constraints at the airport in the concourses,” she said. “Airlines are on top of each other. The hold rooms are on top of each other. The concession spaces are not adequate for the level of volume we have. There are other infrastructure issues that are really going to impede our ability to function within the next five to 10 years if we don’t do something about it.”

Rather than wait, the work and planning is underway.

The runway project – or Airfield Safety Enhancement program – is in its third year with a projected price tag of $400+ million. A runway used only by general aviation operators, which runs parallel to the main commercial runway, will be demolished, relocated, and rebuilt to the size and scale of the main commercial runway along with accompanying taxiways, access, and a modernized airfield geometry that meets the updated safety standards by the Federal Aviation Administration – not to say the current airfield geometry is unsafe.

“This project will enhance the safety and efficiency of the airfield, and it allows for more capacity as well,” said Ken Nichols, TAA VP of planning and engineering.

Unlike road or freeway construction that can paralyze traffic for years – and often does – the runway project will keep traffic moving with some detours and adjustments that shouldn’t impede traffic as various phases of construction get underway.

Presuming the necessary grant funding comes in from the FAA, the airfield project should be completed in the next four to six years.

“It’s the largest and most complex project in the history of the airport,” said Bruce Goetz, TAA executive VP and COO. “The FAA is funding the majority of the project to ensure the airport infrastructure meets current standards. 

“With regard to federal funding, the FAA must consider the entire National Airspace System (NAS) in their decision making. The TUS project rates very highly for federal funding because it is a safety and standards project.”  

To accommodate future demand and growth, the TAA is working closely with airline partners on a scalable terminal expansion concept. The concept involves replacing outdated and aging infrastructure, adding new gates as determined by operational need, and including space and customer service amenities that today’s travelers expect.

The FAA grant process has started.  However, it will take several years to go through initial design and conduct the necessary environmental analysis and finalize concepts. When it does get going, it will be constructed in phases based on demand and growth projections, developed using several different factors, Nichols said. Today, the aim is to complete the terminal expansion in about 10 years, increasing the number of gates and adding circulation space, concessions, other amenities, and technology.

“We’ve got some good metrics,” Nichols said. “Airport planners have been analyzing ways to predict the future for a long time now. We are confident in the projections.”

These projects demonstrate the TAA’s commitment to the Southern Arizona community.


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