A new agreement is expected to clear the way for construction of a long-awaited new security gate complex at the Morris Air National Guard Base at Tucson International Airport.
After years of negotiations, the Tucson Airport Authority and the Air National Guard have signed a letter authorizing land sales and a business relocation to make space for a new main gate on South Park Avenue south of East Valencia Road.
The Air National Guard 162nd Wing, which trains U.S. and allied pilots to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon, is the Guard’s busiest flying operation.
The agreement, which must still be approved by the Air Force, calls for the National Guard to pay for the relocation of a hangar used by airport tenant Aerovation Inc., which had been a sticking point in the negotiations.
“We’re really excited that all of the stakeholders have come together and we’re all participating in the effort to support the Guard, Aerovation and the airport,” said Danette Bewley, interim president and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority.
“It’s really a win-win-win situation because everybody gets what they need and we’re not sacrificing anything, and it’s the end of a long process,” she said.
To provide space for the new gate complex, the Guard will buy 9.8 acres owned by the airport and 19 adjacent acres owned by the city of Tucson.
The much-needed new gate will replace the base’s main gate on East Valencia Road just east of Park Avenue, which is too small and inadequate for current military security requirements and has also caused traffic backups as Guard members arrive for weekend duty.
Col. Sandra Wilson, mission support group commander for the 162nd Wing, said the new gate on South Park will allow more space for vehicles to be queued for security checks, improving traffic safety while increasing security measures for the Guard’s busiest flying operation as well as for the airport.
“These factors will significantly contribute to ensuring the 162nd’s long-term ability to operate at TIA,” Wilson said in an email response.
Though the letter of intent has been signed, Wilson noted that the Air Force still must approve the agreement and some funding must be approved by Congress.
After discussions dating back to at least 2011, the Airport Authority and the National Guard signed an agreement in August 2018 that called for a no-cost, long-term lease of the corner property, with the Guard paying for the relocation of a hangar used by Aerovation, which performs aircraft modifications.
But in February, the airport was informed that the proposed use of a “military construction cooperative agreement” to fund the relocation of the Aerovation hangar would not be legal.
Under the new agreement, the National Guard will pay for the property including the hangar based on the value appraised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If the appraised value is less than the full cost of building a replacement hangar for Aerovation, the Guard has agreed to pay the difference, along with other relocation costs, under the letter of intent.
Construction of the new gate complex will be funded through the military construction budget approved by Congress, the Air Guard’s Wilson said.
The land purchase and hangar reconstruction will be funded either through a program specifically for “unspecified minor military construction projects” or through the main military construction program, while any other relocation costs will be funded separately, she added.
Under federal law, an unspecified minor military construction project is one that costs $6 million or less.
Wilson said the Guard’s goal is to complete the land acquisitions in fiscal year 2020, with the main gate potentially being funded in fiscal year 2021.
In 2011, the National Guard Bureau completed a development plan for the Tucson base that included expansion into the corner of South Park and East Valencia for a new gate.
According to Airport Authority documents, in 2013 the Airport Authority and the Guard signed a letter of intent for a no-cost lease allowing the airport to continue to lease and use the property now used by Aerovation.
In 2015, thinking it had a deal, the airport signed a new lease with Aerovation that included $900,000 in improvements. The company subsequently made $1.5 million of improvements to the property.
But in 2016, the Guard informed the airport that a new gate design would require demolition of the leased hangar, leading to a new round of negotiations.
Local government officials had been pressing the airport to conclude a deal for the new gate for years, citing the Air Guard’s importance to the local economy as well as to national security.
The 162nd Wing is the Guard’s biggest F-16 fighter training base, with 80 aircraft and nearly 1,900 personnel, and it also hosts training for allied nations that fly the F-16.
The base has an annual estimated economic impact of $383 million, including $94 million in payroll.
Tucson-based Aerovation has about 70 employees and provides aircraft modifications, engineering and related services to the aviation and defense industries.