New Tucson air-traffic control tower soon to break ground

2014-01-28T00:00:00Z New Tucson air-traffic control tower soon to break groundBy David Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Ground is expected to be broken in March on a new air-traffic-control tower at Tucson International Airport to replace the airport’s ’50s vintage tower.

The Tucson Airport Authority board on Monday approved a no-cost, 20-year lease with the Federal Aviation Administration for the tower property.

The FAA is on course to issue a construction contract for the federally funded, $43 million tower project this spring, Airport Authority President and CEO Bonnie Allin said at the authority’s annual membership meeting at the Arizona Inn. Construction is expected to take about two years.

In her annual address to members, Allin said that despite declining traffic and the slow economic recovery, the airport is moving ahead on several fronts.

In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2013, TIA served about 3.3 million passengers, down about 300,000 passengers from 2012 as airlines continued to cut flight capacity.

TERMINAL REDO

Among airport improvement projects planned or underway, Allin said the airport hopes to put a plan to revamp the terminal out to bid and begin construction this year.

The plan would reconfigure the terminal area to swap empty airline counter space for expanded and relocated security checkpoints. The airport also plans to expand its food concession and retail options, including new amenities such as business centers, she said.

An ongoing effort to reconstruct the 50-year-old apron surrounding TIA’s terminal will accelerate after a second FAA grant that was awarded sooner than expected, Allin said. The boost will cut the duration of the expected four-year project in half and save more than $1.5 million, Allin said.

AIR SERVICE

Ask not what your airport can do for you; ask what you can do for your airport.

That was the key message as Allin tried to rally the authority’s 90-plus members to the cause of boosting air service at TIA.

The airport is working hard to attract new flights with a lobbying effort that includes marketing incentives that attracted a new Alaska Airlines nonstop to Portland, Ore., that launched in November.

TIA last year enhanced its incentive program, making seasonal and red-eye flights eligible, but part of the answer lies with the local community, Allin said.

She challenged the authority membership — which includes a who’s who of local business leaders — to examine its travel policies and practices and encourage use of the Tucson airport instead of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

An airport study a few years ago found that about 30 percent of Tucson air travelers start their trips by leaving Tucson for other airports, mainly Sky Harbor. Yet the same study found that one-way fares from TIA averaged only $20 more than comparable flights from Phoenix.

“We are asking you to help us change the way Tucsonans approach air travel. … Will you look at travel policies within your own businesses and insist that your employees fly Tucson? Would you be willing to evaluate the amount of money and time wasted when you pay your employees to drive to fly out of Phoenix?” Allin said.

Ticket sales for the new Portland flight are running slightly ahead of forecasts, she said.

Meanwhile, Allin said, airport officials are working to re-establish air-service ties to destinations in Sonora and elsewhere in Mexico, including Hermosillo, Guaymas, Rocky Point, Nogales and Los Mochis.

RYAN TOWER SAFE

Ryan Airfield was among 149 small airports nationwide that faced closures of their contract control towers amid federal budget cuts.

Allin said the federal budget that was passed last month includes funding for, and mandates, the continued operation of contract control towers, ending the uncertainty over Ryan’s tower. The airport authority is working at Ryan to upgrade lighting and signage, perform pavement maintenance and enhance security, she said.

In December, the airport awarded Velocity Air a five-year contract to establish a new maintenance center at Ryan, the first so-called “fixed-base operator” at the general-aviation airfield.

MARKETING PUSH

Allin said the airport is forging ahead with plans to boost economic development at TIA by courting aerospace, industrial and logistics business. The airport will begin a program this year to market its commercial property through CBRE, a major commercial real estate firm, Allin said.

NEW LEADERSHIP

Also on Monday, the Airport Authority elected Ed Biggers, a retired Raytheon executive, as its chairman, replacing outgoing chair Lisa Israel. Biggers has been a TAA member since 1989 and previously served on the board from 2001 through 2006.

David Goldstein, president of Diamond Ventures, joined the board as assistant treasurer; other new board members are Lisa Lovallo, vice president and market manager for Cox Communications Southern Arizona, and Judy Patrick, director and chairman of CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Co. (formerly SCF Arizona).

Stepping down from the board were Israel, Greg Pivirotto and Francine Katz.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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