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$23M awarded to TIA for runway safety work

$23M awarded to TIA for runway safety work

FAA gives Tucson largest grant in first round of $3.2B program

  • Eric Salard/Flickr

A $23 million federal grant will help Tucson International Airport with major renovations, with the runway safety project receiving the largest amount from the first round of a $3.2 billion national program.

The Airfield Safety Enhancement Project was the most money awarded to any single airport out of $608 million given to 441 airports by the Federal Aviation Administration. It was the first round of the FAA 2022 Airport Investment Program, which will spend billion to improve airfields around the country.

Money from the AIP is being awarded in addition to $20 billion being distributed across the United States from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

The second-largest AIP grant thus far went to the Denver International Airport, which received $22.8 million. The third largest grant went to the Pullman/Moscow Regional Airport in Pullman, Wash. The funds for TIA are 63 percent of the total $37 million to be spent on projects in Arizona.

Danette Bewley, president and CEO of the Tucson Airport Authority, thanked members of Arizona’s congressional delegation for the funding.

“We appreciate the advocacy and support from all the members of our state delegation who support funding for our Airfield Safety Enhancement Project,” Bewley said. “This funding will allow the Tucson Airport Authority to continue progression with the largest airfield project in the history of Tucson International Airport.”

The Airport Authority operates the field under a contract with the city of Tucson.

TIA also received federal grants worth $31 million in December and $18.5 million in July for the ASE project. In the past, TAA officials have thanked U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema for that funding.

The ASE project is a long-term plan to demolish a 1.5-mile general aviation runway next to the main runway, and replace it with one that’s twice as wide and 4,000 feet longer to reduce the chance of “runway incursions,” or planes being on the runway at the wrong time, which can lead to collisions.

The planning for the project started in 2014, and construction is expected to last another six years. Mike Smejkal, the vice president of planning and engineering for TAA, has previously told the Sentinel that continued federal and state funding can cut that timeline down to three years

Much of the airfield was constructed in the 1950s, including its much-recognized “Tucson” control tower. The airport launched the ASE project to bring the airfield up to FAA standards after the federal agency updated the definition of runway incursions in 2007, leading to an uptick in minor incidents here.

The expected cost of the project is $350 million, but when the FAA approved the project in 2018, the cost was slated at $218 million. TAA officials have also previously said it would be $300 million.

ASE is a five-phase project, and it's currently in its second phase, which includes improving pavement, electrical parts and drainage and runoff. Last year, TIA finished the first phase, which improved runway lights.

TIA expects to build an additional runway in the next year or two, officials said. The new runway would be the third for the airport, which also has a perpendicular crosswind runway that is sometimes used by airliners and military jets.

The second phase of the project already received money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and will also create new taxiways, or the paved strips where planes move between the runways and aprons that planes use to park, load and unload cargo and passengers.

The new taxiways will mostly benefit tenants at the airfield including Raytheon, the Arizona Air National Guard and FedEx, among others, by giving them continued access to a runway while the new one is constructed.

Most of the construction for the project will happen at a distance from the terminals that commercial passengers use at TIA, officials said, meaning it will likely go unnoticed by many.

However, ASE is expected to modernize the airport, make it safer, more sustainable, energy efficient and create good-paying construction jobs, Smejkal said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted incorrectly spelled the first name of Arizona’s senior U.S. senator.

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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