There is a lot going on at Marana Regional Airport. Town staff are constantly working on ways to improve the facility and provide better service to those using the airport, whether they are long time tenants or travelers making a quick stop in Marana.
Improvements at the airport are funded in a variety of ways, but the most significant improvements occur through grants. Since 2013, the town has collected $9.7 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Arizona Department of Transportation.
At the end of August, the Marana Regional Airport will undergo total reconstruction of the asphalt for several aprons and one of the taxiways. This $6.3 million project will pay a number of dividends for the airport, and the town.
First and foremost, replacing the surface will make it safer. As the surface gets older, it begins to degrade and can become dangerous to both people and planes. With corporate jets costing as much as $85 million, it is very important to make sure debris does not damage aircraft.
This project will not only restore the surface, but improve it. Marana Regional Airport was never designed for jets and, save for the runways, the pavement was not meant for the larger aircraft that now land at the facility on a daily basis. The new pavement will be strengthened nearly three-fold over the previous surface, which not only makes it safer, but adds longevity.
The new surface means less maintenance. Currently, staff must sweep the pavement and remove debris that builds up over time. With less focus on the pavement, staff can turn their attention to other operational needs.
The reconstruction project will last about six months and, despite some temporary inconveniences to areas of the airport, I really believe the end result will be worth it.
The FAA will fund the bulk of the project with their grants, paying for over 91 percent of the costs. ADOT and the Town of Marana will each cover about 4.47 percent of the project, with the airport using additional discretionary funds that come from the FAA. Every year, the FAA gives General Aviation Airports such as Marana $150,000, which the airport can bank for up to four years to fund a major project.
Grant money also helps town staff plan for the future. Back in 2014, the town used grant money to update its Airport Master Plan and create a Strategic Business Plan. The master plan lays out how the Town envisions airport growth and expansion over the next 20 years. The plan not only provides a valuable guide for the future, but having the plan makes the town eligible for FAA and ADOT funding.
The growth of the airport is predicated on bringing in more businesses and air traffic. These goals are addressed by the Airport Strategic Business Plan. The plan establishes strategies to achieve business goals, further establishes a vision for the facility and creates a focused strategy for development.
Part of the current strategy is to reach out to corporations and its pilots to market the airport. It is typically pilots, not the passengers, of private jets who choose which airports to utilize. The airport will be more proactive in reaching out to organizations like the National Business Aviation Association and promoting Marana Regional Airport as a viable alternative to Tucson International Airport and other regional options.
Keeping existing businesses and courting new businesses to Marana is also a key component to the future growth of Marana Regional Airport. The Town Council just approved new and consolidated leases with Pima Aviation Inc. that are going to be beneficial to both the town and businesses.
The military uses Marana Regional Airport for over 22,000 operations a year. Military and defense are other avenues where the airport could continue to grow.
With over 300 days of sunshine and little in the way of competition, Marana is perfectly suited for new businesses. Marana Regional Airport hopes to bring an additional flight school to Marana, and staff has had many positive discussions. There is a looming airline pilot shortage, and flight schools are a lucrative business in the current climate.
So why should the town invest in the airport? Current estimates have Marana Regional Airport generating between $18 million to $20 million for Marana and the region. In fact, one of the reasons the Ritz-Carlton chose Dove Mountain was the proximity to the airport.
There are a lot of exciting things happening at the airport and many more to come. Much like the Town of Marana itself, Marana Regional Airport has room to grow and expand, and the best is yet to come.
Steve Miller is the Town of Marana Regional Airport Director.