Despite being hammered by passenger reductions due to COVID, the Tucson International Airport is keeping busy. On Oct. 15, the Tucson Airport Authority broke ground on a $300 million Airfield Safety Enhancement project, which involves reconstruction of a runway, new taxiways, installation of aircraft guidance systems and a modernization of the airfield to meet current Federal Aviation Administration design standards. Depending on FAA funding, the project is planned to finish in three to five years.
This is the latest in a hectic year for the airport, which is seeing less than half their usual passengers due to the ongoing pandemic. According to Bruce Goetz, chief operating officer for TAA, the airport is seeing 40 to 45% of their weekly passengers compared to the same time last year. This equates to roughly 13,000 to 15,000 passengers weekly.
“It’s safe to say we’ve taken a 55% hit in our traffic, and I’d say that’s right around what Phoenix is at as well,” Goetz said. “Through the month of March, we went from being at 101% compared to the previous year, to, by the end of the month, down to only 8% of normal.”
Since the pandemic hit, the airport’s customer base has slowly begun to recover from a low of 4% of normal in April, to a high of 46.5% of normal on Labor Day.
With the pandemic, the airport received $22 million in CARES Act funding. $275,000 of that was used for health and safety measures in the terminal, such as sanitizing procedures, air filtration, social distance messaging and being “as touchless as possible.” TAA also chose to provide a 25% rent reduction for airlines using the airport for fiscal year 2021.
“We know they’re also going through a tough time, and we want them to be successful in Tucson,” Goetz said. “We are one of only a few airports that chose to give them a rent reduction, and we feel that is going to help us pretty significantly when things start to rebound, because the airlines know their cost to operate in Tucson will be a lot less compared to our peer airports.”
Looking forward, TAA is also planning for additional work on the airport’s terminal.
“The Tucson metro area is growing, and we expect to see a continued rise in passengers from Tucson that we want to be able to accommodate,” Goetz said.