Nov. 24, 2004 - Warbirds glisten in the Arizona sun, their sheen reflecting the brown mountains, blue sky and black asphalt at the Marana Regional Airport. The retired airplanes, relics from World War II, represent just one type of business Marana wants to attract to the airport.
ATW Aviation Inc., which restores and maintains the old fighters, is one of a handful of businesses operating out of Marana's airport. In the coming years, Marana and Pima Aviation, which runs the airport on land leased from the town, will work to attract more aviation-related businesses to the airport, said Kirk Bentson, general manager for Pima Aviation.
"We work to attract businesses that have basically anything to do with aviation," Bentson said.
The intent is to have the airport become the center of the town's industrial and economic base, which has been the case since the town purchased the airport in 1999 from Pima County, said Marana Community and Economic Development Director Dick Gear.
"The purpose of (purchasing the airport) was to serve as a catalyst for economic development," Gear said.
Since 1999, Marana has applied for and received millions of dollars in state and federal grants to work toward that goal. Now the airport's master plan includes the acquisition of state land adjacent to the airport, and the construction of a third runway, a terminal and a control tower. All will make the airport more attractive to private pilots, aviation-related industries and business travelers. The idea is to attract specialized businesses to the airport and create an economic hub surrounding the airport that can benefit from its access and will not be bothered by noise from aircrafts, said Airport Director Charles Mangum.
Under Mangum's influence, the airport is now closer to that goal, Gear said. Though both he and Bentson said certain obstacles still remain.
Bentson said Pima Aviation, a private company owned by Harold and Gary Abrams, faces difficulty attracting businesses because the airport is not connected to the county sewer line. He said a company with about 300 to 400 employees considered locating at the Marana Regional Airport, but it was reluctant to do so because it would have had to treat its wastewaster with a septic system. Bentson would not identify the company.
Pima County voters recently approved a $732 million bond that included $2.8 million to design and build a sewer system for the airport. Bentson said it's now in the county's hands to construct that sewer line, which would contribute to the airport's industrial development.
Gear said Marana and Pima County Wastewater have enjoyed a good relationship. He said the county would postpone building the sewer line until demand at the airport necessitated its construction. A sewer line will be in place by the time a company that needs one locates at the airport, he said.
At a Nov. 16 study session, Mangum said another solution would be to have the company pay for the sewer line up front and then have the county reimburse that cost.
On the other hand, Gear said the main obstacle the town faces in making the airport the hub of its industrial base is the acquisition of state lands. The town is looking to acquire 76 acres on the east side of the airport and about 250 acres adjacent to the airport on the west, Mangum said. The town has been negotiating with officials in the state land department and will likely acquire the land on the east side in the middle of next year, Mangum said.
The state land is necessary to build the third runway and would allow for the development of aviation related businesses near the airport, Mangum said. For example, Mangum said the Marana airport could house an aircraft completion center, which would complete the construction of smaller types of aircraft.
However, Gear said Arizona is reluctant to sell state land for non-residential use. He added Marana could consider leasing the land from the state, but that would not make the property attractive to potential businesses considering locating near the airport.
The has shown its commitment to the airport by applying for state and federal grants in the past two years to make extensive improvements to the airport.
"As we grow we're going to have more of a demand for the airport," Mangum said.
The airport's two runways have been repaved, with one completely resurfaced; dense brush that surrounded the runways and grasses that had forced their way through cracks in the asphalt have been removed; and the 120 new hangars under construction are nearing completion. Lighting and electrical components have been improved and upgraded.
Mangum said the hangars will be housed in eight buildings. The first four should be completed by the end of December and the next four early next year. Currently, there's an extensive waiting list to get into a hangar at Marana's airport and the new hangars should considerably reduce that waiting list, Bentson said.
The runway improvements are standard procedures for airport maintenance, Bentson said. He said the improvements ensure pilots' comfort when they take off and land at the airport.
"What we're doing is we're preventing dissatisfaction," he said.
State and federal grants have footed the bill for the improvements. According to the town's January 2003 to July 2004 annual report, the airport has received almost $3.5 million in total grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the state since 2003.
The airport is awaiting more grant money from the FAA to construct a control tower and a terminal with a restaurant at the airport. Mangum said the application for the grant money for the control tower already has been submitted and construction on it may begin in the middle of next year.
Currently Mangum said the airport runs about 80,000 operations - aircraft taking off and landing at the airport - per year. In the next two-and-a-half years that number could increase to 140,000, Bentson said. That number of operations necessitates a control tower. Both Mangum and Bentson said that flight conditions are currently safe at the airport.
The terminal would provide a destination point for private pilots and make the airport an identifiable part of Marana. The terminal would include a community room with a potential capacity of 100 to 150 people. This room could be used for meetings, aircraft fly-ins and community events, Mangum said.
Currently, Mangum said about 260 airplanes are based at Marana Regional Airport. When the new hangars are completed that number could double. He added that the airport would always be used primarily by private pilots, corporate jets and businesses in Marana.
"We're not looking to compete with Tucson International Airport," Mangum said.
He added that the airport may offer charter flights in the future.
The airport should also have an additional fixed base operator sometime in the future, Mangum said. The FBO would provide airport maintenance and repair for the local air traffic.