New Era for Tucson International Airport

End-Around Taxiway Project Paves Way for Historic Modernization

By Tara Kirkpatrick

Beyond the sight of travelers at Tucson International Airport (TUS) is a pivotal new airfield construction project underway that is just the start of a historic estimated $350 million modernization of the airfield.

Construction of the new End-Around Taxiway, which kicked off in November 2021, is the second phase associated with the multi-year Airfield Safety Enhancement Program – the largest airfield improvement effort in the airport’s history.

“The End-Around Taxiway Project is an integral piece of airfield safety and allows aircraft to use a taxiway that goes around the main runway.  It also minimizes risks associated with crossing the active main runway,” said Danette Bewley, president and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority. “This work sets us up to proceed with the demolition and construction of the new parallel runway and center taxiway, which will provide added safety benefits and serve the many aircraft users.”

The approximately $25.7 million taxiway project, funded by federal grants through the Federal Aviation Administration and the Arizona Air National Guard, is projected to finish in January 2023. It’s a prosperous continuation of the larger ASE program, a $350 million-plus undertaking that will increase efficiency, safety, and limit pilot confusion at TUS. 

“This is truly exciting for our region,” said Bewley. “The ASE Program is a modernization project for our airfield. Our airfield is safe, but standards have changed so we need to modernize the airfield to meet new FAA safety standards.”

TUS has served passengers from its current location since 1963, with some expansion in the 1960s and 1980s. The ASE program will usher in a new era for the award-winning airport, which has not only added additional flights of late but also earned the prestigious Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR accreditation for operating a safe and healthy facility. When TUS first received the recognition, it was one of only five airports in the world to receive the designation.  Now, over 80 airports have earned this important health and safety designation. 

The other components of the ASE program include demolishing the 8,000-foot long by 75-foot-wide runway, used predominantly by general aviation aircraft. This runway will be relocated and replaced with a new parallel runway that is 11,000 feet long by 150-feet-wide, along with a center taxiway and new connector taxiways. Also included will be updates to airfield geometry and installation of aircraft guidance systems to ensure current FAA compliance. The entire program should take about six to eight years to complete, depending on federal funding. 

“Airlines and operators look at how fast can you get in and get out and what are the complications and that’s all factored into so many decisions that airlines make when they are looking at what are the costs of operating…” Bewley said. “Right now, we are a very efficient airport, and this will just help us with that, especially with redundancy.”

Key to the ASE program is a crucial land swap with U.S Air Force Plant 44, leased by Raytheon Missiles & Defense, which will enable the airport to bolster its safety area on the western border, said Mike Smejkal, TAA’s VP of planning and engineering. “TAA needed a portion of USAF land for our new runway’s safety area and USAF/Raytheon needed TAA property to meet safety requirements for explosive arcs for their production facility.  The land swap worked out as a win-win for both groups.” 

In addition to USAF and Raytheon, Bewley credited a long list of stakeholders for the success of this exciting new venture, including the City of Tucson, Pima County, Arizona Air National Guard, 162nd Wing, the National Guard Bureau, the airlines, and FAA representatives.

“Not only are we part of a community, but we are part of a national transportation system,” Bewley said. “We have to look for the best way to meet the expectations of our many stakeholders and ensure a successful project. It’s been a long journey, and I am confident it will turn out well because of the way we have approached the myriad of challenges and worked together.”

“This historic modernization has significant benefits for our entire region,” said Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development arm. “This will greatly increase the capacity, efficiency and continuity of the airport operations, which impacts our existing businesses flying in and out and shows businesses considering relocation or expansion near or at the airport that we’re competitively positioned to meet their needs.”

Pictured above from left  – Ryan Toner – Dibble Engineering; Lt. Col. Paul Boriack – Arizona Air National Guard, 162nd Wing; Col. Greg Hoffman – Arizona Air National Guard, 162nd Wing; Bruce Dusenberry – TAA Chair; Danette Bewley – TAA President/CEO; Mike Smejkal – TAA VP of Planning and Engineering; Michael Hammond – TAA Vice Chair; Anthony Alfonso – Granite Construction; Bill VanHercke – Jacobs Engineering Group; Adam Hardy – WSP USA
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