BizTucson Spring 2023 Special Report Tucson Airport Authority

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Billion Annual Economic Impact

Tucson Airport Authority (TAA) has come a long way in the 75 years since it borrowed $25,000 to begin operation of Tucson International Airport.

Today, it has an $8.3 billion annual economic impact.

TAA President and CEO Danette Bewley calls it an “evolution,” and it’s continuing at an ever-increasing pace.

As TAA marks its 75th anniversary, it’s poised to spend more than $1 billion over the next decade or so to continue to upgrade, expand and modernize the Tucson International Air-

port – or TUS (it’s federal aviation designator) − in response to the growing community, to federal safety requirements, to businesses who want to move to the region, and to travelers who want and need more from their airports.

“I think what you see at airports is evolution,” said Bewley, only the fifth person to lead TAA since it was formed in 1948. She arrived as part of the management team in 2012 to continue a long career in aviation and was appointed to head TAA in 2019.

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From left – Christopher Schmaltz, VP & General Counsel; Twyla Salaiz, VP & Chief People Officer; Austin Wright, Chief Communications Officer; Danette Bewley, President & CEO; John Voorhees, VP & Chief Revenue Officer; Bruce Goetz, Executive VP & Chief Operations Officer; Anthony Casella, Chief Technology Officer Not pictured: Kim Allison, VP & Chief Financial Officer and Ken Nichols, VP of Planning and Engineering.

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“We’re in the same situation that many other airports are in where you are finding outdated infrastructure and a growing community and you have got to make some changes to accommodate the airlines, the community and the desires of the traveling public. You have got to adjust.”

That’s exactly what TAA is doing.

In 2018, the Terminal Optimization Program completed a revamp of the terminal within its footprint, to reconfigure the security checkpoints and other space for easier access for travelers, to provide modern amenities and to relieve some of the cramped quarters around the terminal.

The airport is in the third year of a $400+ million Airport Safety Enhancement project to meet new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety standards on the airfield. In the next several years, a new, relocated parallel runway will be completed along with the accompanying improvements to improve safety and airfield access for aircraft users. The airport will ultimately have two parallel commercial runways, and a crosswind runway, that will accommodate all users, including the airlines, military and general aviation.

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“Our goal is to develop the land for the airport authority that happens to have a byproduct that develops business.”
– Danette Bewley President & CEO Tucson Airport Authority
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In all, about $1.5 billion is expected to be spent on these two airport projects – assuming grant funding is available through the federal government.

“You have to figure out if you can get it federally funded to the maximum level and if not, how do you want to pay for it,” Bewley said. “As good stewards, those are questions we have to ask ourselves.”

There are billions of dollars at stake.

In 2021, the Arizona Department of

Transportation produced the Arizona Aviation Impact Study that put TUS’ economic impact at $8.3 billion. The airport supports more than 45,000 jobs that result in about $2.5 billion in earnings. Ryan Airfield (RYN) has added $35 million in economic impact with another 216 jobs supported.

About 3.4 million passengers passed through TUS last year, the TAA said in its 2022 Year in Review report. TAA is the landlord for 80 tenants at TUS and another 25 at RYN.

One of the airport’s focus areas is diversifying revenue streams. The TAA has a portfolio of aeronautical (airlines, etc.) and non-aeronautical (non-aviation buildings, land, etc.) endeavors. Revenue from aeronautical activities is

about 65%, with the remaining 35% coming from non-aeronautical activities.

Typically, airports purchase land to protect the airport from encroachment and/or minimize noise impacts to the surrounding areas, when possible. The TAA has amassed a lot of land over the years for these purposes. With more than 5,000 of developable land around the airport, another 1,000 on the airport property for aeronautical tenants, and 2,000 more around RYN, there is room to develop some of the land holdings to expand the revenue portfolio.



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And now, there are conceptual drawings for a long-term expansion plan for the terminal which will solve existing challenges and meet future needs with an increase in the number of the gates to accommodate expected growth.
However, airports are unique and there are processes, limitations and restrictions that must be followed as land

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is readied for market. Before any land can be developed, the FAA must conduct a comprehensive analysis and review, which includes an evaluation of the planned or intended use (aeronautical or non-aeronautical), ensure proper environmental studies are completed, and identify the original source of funds used to purchase the land (FAA grants, etc.). In some cases, the FAA may require an airport pay it back at fair market value. Airports must be strategic in how they approach land development; it is not uncommon for this process to take several years.

The TAA does not always go it alone. Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development arm, provides expertise and assistance as well as business leads. Working together, the TAA and Sun Corridor discuss issues and challenges, and the best approach to use in different scenarios to achieve the best outcome. There is a lot of work to do, which is exciting.

“What we’ve seen over the last few years is a lot of companies coming into

the airport employment area,” said Joe Snell, president and CEO of Sun Corridor. “We’re working with some on air port land, but it’s really the airport that’s influencing all of this.”

It’s an opportunity for the region to continue developing the area as a business corridor with nearby transportation access. If it’s on airport land it has to have a connection to TUS. But the airport’s influence in the area goes beyond the land it owns.

“We’re seeing a lot of movement in this whole airport employment area. It is the key economic development area right now for Southern Arizona.”

Bewley is careful to point out that any development on land the airport owns must have a direct benefit to TUS because it is regulated by the FAA. At the same time, any business the land generates is good for Southern Arizona.

“Our goal is to develop the land for the airport authority that happens to have a byproduct that develops business,” Bewley said. “We keep that straight because the FAA looks at us very carefully as to how we spend air-

port money. It always has to benefit the air port system.”

History of TUS

It all started in 1948 with a $25,000 loan when the local chamber of commerce put together a group of 15 business leaders to run the airport which was operating on land purchased by the City of Tucson.

A couple of small airfields and later, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base had served as the region’s airport from the early 1900s until after World War II when city government purchased the land where TAA now sits in 1941. The city didn’t have the resources to run the airport, so the chamber stepped in.

It formed the TAA as a nonprofit corporation in 1948 and hired Robert W.F. Schmidt as the first general manager.

Around that time, Ryan Airfield had been built west of town to train World War II pilots, and after the war it became a commercial airfield. The TAA took over operation of that in 1951 and still operates it.

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Over time, all the major airlines, some that are still around and some that are not, made their way to TUS – TWA, Pan Am, American, United, Delta, Continental. Today, through consolidation of many of the larger airlines, the four largest − American, United, Delta and Southwest − still serve TUS. Alaska, Flair and Sun Country bring the number of airlines serving the Tucson community to seven.

Planning for Growth and Commerce

TUS is now in the middle of, arguably, its biggest construction effort in its history to meet safety standards, hence the Airport Safety Enhancement Program.

“We’re taking a long-term view –20, 30 years into the future,” said Ken Nichols, TAA VP of planning and engineering, pointing to current planning to expand the terminal from 22 gates to as many as 35 gates, and to improve aging infrastructure and modernize technology.

“We have been planning with con-

sultants for about a year and a half now,” Nichols said. “They have crawled all over the terminal, and looked at our baggage systems, check-in counters and gate holdroom circulation spaces, concessions spaces, our Federal Inspection Services area, curb frontage and parking, to name a few areas.

“They have evaluated alternatives for how the airport could effectively grow in the future and also enhance passenger experience and flow throughout the air port.”

Austin Wright, chief communications officer at TAA, said the airport recognizes its role.

“I think that we try to share the good work that we’re doing with the whole community and that we are more than just a port for an airplane to come into town, load up passengers and leave,” Wright said. “We have a lot of businesses that thrive on the land that we own. We are an economic engine for Southern Arizona and there are many people that rely on this airport for their livelihood.”

Bewley said the airport is still recov-

ering from COVID-19 to continue being a positive influence in the region.

“Working with the airlines, we have restored about 90% of the flights as compared to the pre-COVID levels of 2019. We still have a gap to fill,” Bewley said. “Of course, we are not going to be satisfied until we get back to where we were in 2019 and beyond.”

“It’s really important that we diversify our revenue stream,” she said. “The real reason airports do what we are doing is to have a different revenue stream so if an airline decides to reduce their flights or cut service altogether, we are not left going, ‘Oh no. What are we going to do?’

“We have another revenue stream coming in and that is very important. Not every airport has the same land holdings that we do. But I can promise you, if you talk to any CEO of an air port, they are going to tell you how important diversification of revenue streams is because COVID was a perfect example to test an airport’s resolve.”

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From Top Gun to Tucson Airport Authority

Q&A with Danette Bewley

There was never a doubt in Danette Bewley’s mind that she would have a career in aviation.

The only question was whether it would be in the air or on the ground.

Bewley grew up in San Diego and, spent a lot of time at the Naval Air Station Miramar – the same Miramar where the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known at Top Gun, was based. She was the daughter of a Top Gun pilot. Her uncle, U.S. Navy Capt. Dan Pedersen, now retired, is credited with creating the training program that’s reached legend status through the motion pictures “Top Gun” and “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise.

“I never, ever contemplated any career outside of aviation. It didn’t even exist in my mind,” said Bewley. “As I’ve grown older, I’ve thought maybe I should have been a doctor or lawyer. Those are professions that never occurred to me, not even once.”

As the daughter of an elite fighter and combat tested pilot, Bewley said her first interest was also to be a pilot.

“I really did want to follow in my father’s footsteps,” she said. “Things were a little bit different for women in aviation at that time. So, I went to school, and I got a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in aviation, closely followed by a Master in Manage-

ment, and years later a Master of Public Administration.”

Bewley is in her fourth year as president and CEO of Tucson Airport Authority, which operates Tucson International Airport. She joined TAA in 2012 and was the VP of operations and COO for the five years before she was named president and CEO at the end of 2019. She has been in the aviation business for 34 years having held management positions in her hometown at the Port of San Diego/San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, with the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, and with the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

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Q: Once you knew that being a fighter pilot was not in the cards for you, where did you direct your career in aviation?

A:My interest in aviation was really focused on becoming a pilot, but what I didn’t understand is how much there is in aviation. It’s not just being a pilot. You can do other things and still be in aviation. You just have to find what fits you best. Because of my bachelor’s degree program, I got picked by the FAA to go learn to be an air traffic controller. I did not like that. I went through the first phase of training, and it really wasn’t for me, so I decided to focus on airport management.

Q: What attracted you to Tucson?

A:Being from San Diego, I wanted to be closer to what I considered home. I really liked the climate in the area. That was one thing I looked at, but really it was the airport. The airport really needed some help to get from where it was to where we are now. You really have to invest in the projects, the programs, the initiatives, the people to build the airport to where it is. I wanted to be a part of that. I just thought that Tucson was a community that was really growing, and the airport needed to grow with it in different ways, not just in its size, but how it operates. I really wanted to help be a catalyst for that.

Tucson is a lot more like the town I grew up in in San Diego. I grew up in a

to your airline? Is our signage in the airport helpful to you? Are our volunteers helpful? Are the TSA friendly when you go through the checkpoint? Just getting through checkpoints has got to be one of life’s major stressors. Then, you get through and you recompose yourself and head up to your gate. We want people to be able to get a glass of water or a cup of coffee or a sandwich and not feel the stress. I can sit down and relax by my gate. Maybe I have time to plug in my laptop and do some work. Really, what I want is a stress-free experience. But at the core of everything, it’s always safety, security, and customer service every day, all the time. If I can get all three of those and just feel like, “Okay, great. I’m here. I can get on my plane, and I go.” That’s what I want. I want it to be seamless.

Q: At what point did you start to think you wanted to run an airport or believe you had that in your future?

A:I always knew I wanted to. I’m not sure I always believed I would. There are only so many airports in the United States. I honestly never thought I would leave San Diego. When an opportunity came up, I was talking to my CEO and I remember this comment because it’s been very meaningful for me and my career. She said, “Sometimes you need to leave in order to succeed.” That really made a lot of sense to me. I wanted to continue to grow and learn so I knew I had to leave (San Diego) and gather the experience somewhere else, so that is what I did. I kept building my career and making strategic moves. I’ve really been fortunate in my career to have had great mentors.

suburb called La Mesa, kind of a small town in a big city. That’s what I like about Tucson. Even though it is a big city, it still has a small-town feel. People are kind. People are helpful to one another. People support one another. There’s a lot of collaboration and that is what I enjoy. Although I’m born and raised in San Diego, I actually consider Tucson my home.

Q: Put yourself in the mindset of an occasional traveler through Tucson International Airport, what do you want the airport to have and what do you want it to be in the next five or 10 years?

A:I want the journey to be pleasant, and I want to remove as much stress from the experience as possible. We think a lot about that. How do you park your car or are you dropped off by a relative or an Uber? How do you get

Q: You have accomplished a lot. What is next for you?

A:What I have learned about myself is that I am never satisfied with the status quo. I often wonder if this is fighter pilot genetics running through my blood stream. I want to challenge myself and my team to be the best we can be as people and as airport management professionals. I want the choices I make, and ask my board to support, to be forward-thinking yet systematic with great, tangible benefit for the future of this fantastic airport system and community - programs, projects and initiatives and the philosophy of safety, security, and customer service at the core. I want the things we are doing at the TAA for TUS and RYN to be the airport model for other airport leaders to follow. Last, I want our community to know deep down that we are ‘Nonstop for Tucson.’

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“ the core of everything, it’s always safety, security and customer service every day all the time. That’s what I want.”
– Danette Bewley, President & CEO, Tucson Airport Authority

In Plane

Tucson Airport Authority Board Champions Diverse Perspectives

Keri Silvyn thinks there’s a passion needed to be a Tucson Airport Authority board member.

It could be a passion for aviation, economic development, business or community. Overseeing Tucson International Airport and Ryan Airfield

entails all of those, which is why Silvyn said she’s a member of the TAA board and the chair for 2023-24.

“I have a deep love of Tucson and a deep desire to see it succeed and retain its identity,” said Silvyn, a local attorney whose practice centers on zoning and

land use.

Tucson International Airport – TUS – needs a diversity of community support from a business and economic development standpoint, said Danette Bewley, TAA president and CEO. With 60 members of TAA–11 of whom serve

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on the board–TAA works to reflect the community both in its board and its membership to ensure ideas come from different points of view and experience.

The TAA was formed in 1948, but it wasn’t until 1981 that the board had a female chair, former Pima County

Supervisor Katie Dusenberry. More recently, with a focused effort on diversity by the membership, three of the last four chairs have been female.

“You want your members and board members to reflect the community more closely,” Bewley said. “Collec-

tively, we thought a pivot was needed. One step was to work with the board to modernize the TAA bylaws. Internal to the organization, we looked at industry and public agency best practices to make some meaningful shifts.”

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“We felt diversity was important not only in whether you are male or female, but also your ethnicity and the business that you represent. We really get a lot out of the diversity of experience that our members bring to the position.”

Silvyn said the board must avoid what she calls “groupthink.” If everyone is from the same background, she said, it’s not conducive to generating the creativity needed for an organization that has a massive impact on its community.

As it is, the TAA has to operate within some boundaries that come from being regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, boundaries that most community boards don’t face. Getting creative with new ideas can be a challenge.

“I personally don’t like sitting on boards where everybody’s nodding and it’s groupthink,” she said. “I like sitting on boards where somebody has a conflicting or a different way of approaching a problem and getting to know and understand it. You’ve got to bring some of those backgrounds into the room in order to get that.”

The focus on diversity has enabled the board to handle the tremendous challenges the TAA (TUS and RYN) are facing now and will face in the coming years with more than $1.5 billion in improvement and safety projects, a constantly fluctuating air travel market, and the array of regulatory requirements.

It’s been the board room where ideas like having local food vendors in the terminal and having local artwork throughout were either born or approved.

“I love the fact we have local vendors in the airport, the art display that’s in the gallery,” Silvyn said. “All of those were discussions that we had as a board.

“A lot of what we’ve been working on the last few years has been expanding into more community partnerships, working with the city, with the county, with Sun Corridor and making sure that we’re making decisions that really help the airport and the community.”

It’s the connection to the community that matters most, Bewley said.

“It’s important because our community is diverse, and the airport membership and leadership ought to mirror that diversity,” said Bruce Dusenberry, who served two years as TAA chair before Silvyn and whose mother, Katie, busted the glass ceiling for TAA chairs. “What should matter is the quality of the board members as well as the diversity. We’ve got a very diverse community and the board and chairs have begun to reflect that.”

“I think what people generally are looking for (in TAA members) is people that really want to support the mission of the airport,” Bewley said. “These are men and women and business leaders who have full-time jobs and have made time for the airport authority, which is really special. It has been a very rewarding experience for me seeing the level of interest and involvement that that we have with our board and our members.”

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“I like sitting on boards where somebody has a conflicting or a different way of approaching a problem and getting to know and understand it.”
– Keri Silvyn Chair
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Billion Investment in An Airport


If you have a window seat flying in or out of Tucson International Airport over the next few years, you should peek outside to see the future.

Over the next decade, the airport –TUS – will likely undergo a major expansion and overhaul with a runway project already underway and the start of a major terminal expansion. In all,

it’s a roughly $1.5 billion investment in the airport for these two projects.

“We started a study about a year ago and we wanted to see what the design would be for our projections,” said Danette Bewley, president and CEO of Tucson Airport Authority, now in its 75th year operating TUS. “What will it look like in 10 years? What will it look

like in 20, 30 and 40 years? Our plan is scalable based on demand and the growth of the region.

“We are already finding that we have some constraints at the airport in the concourses,” she said. “Airlines are on top of each other. The hold rooms are on top of each other. The concession spaces are not adequate for the level of

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Future for the

TUS Over Next Decade

volume we have. There are other infrastructure issues that are really going to impede our ability to function within the next five to 10 years if we don’t do something about it.”

Rather than wait, the work and planning is underway.

The runway project – or Airfield Safety Enhancement program – is in its

third year with a projected price tag of $400+ million. A runway used only by general aviation operators, which runs parallel to the main commercial runway, will be demolished, relocated, and rebuilt to the size and scale of the main commercial runway along with accompanying taxiways, access, and a modernized airfield geometry that meets the

updated safety standards by the Federal Aviation Administration – not to say the current airfield geometry is unsafe.

“This project will enhance the safety and efficiency of the airfield, and it allows for more capacity as well,” said Ken Nichols, TAA VP of planning and engineering.

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Unlike road or freeway construction that can paralyze traffic for years – and often does – the runway project will keep traffic moving with some detours and adjustments that shouldn’t impede traffic as various phases of construction get underway.

Presuming the necessary grant funding comes in from the FAA, the airfield project should be completed in the next four to six years.

“It’s the largest and most complex project in the history of the airport,” said Bruce Goetz, TAA executive VP and COO. “The FAA is funding the majority of the project to ensure the airport infrastructure meets current standards.

“With regard to federal funding, the FAA must consider the entire National Airspace System (NAS) in their decision making. The TUS project rates very highly for federal funding because it is a safety and standards project.”

To accommodate future demand and growth, the TAA is working closely with airline partners on a scalable terminal expansion concept. The concept involves replacing outdated and aging infrastructure, adding new gates as determined by operational need, and including space and customer service amenities that today’s travelers expect.

The FAA grant process has started. However, it will take several years to go through initial design and conduct the necessary environmental analysis

and finalize concepts. When it does get going, it will be constructed in phases based on demand and growth projections, developed using several different factors, Nichols said. Today, the aim is to complete the terminal expansion in about 10 years, increasing the number of gates and adding circulation space, concessions, other amenities, and technology.

“We’ve got some good metrics,” Nichols said. “Airport planners have been analyzing ways to predict the future for a long time now. We are confident in the projections.”

These projects demonstrate the TAA’s commitment to the Southern Arizona community.

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“It’s the largest and most complex project in the history of the airport.”
– Bruce Goetz, Executive VP and COO, Tucson Airport Authority
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From left TAA Police Chief Scott Bader TAA Fire Chief Tom Tucker PHOTO: BRENT G. MATHIS PHOTO: NATALIE MOE

From Curb to Gate

Tucson International Airport Offers Top Safety, Sense of Place

With 3.4 million passengers passing through Tucson International Airport in 2022, that was a lot of heartbeats, stomachs to feed and hands that needed washing for the Tucson Airport Authority staff whose focus is on the customer experience.

TAA Fire Chief Tom Tucker has a simple approach when he’s asked how it feels to put his head on his pillow at night knowing the tremendous responsibility the TAA has to ensure a safe, secure customer experience for so many.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown, right?” Tucker said. “It’s one of those things where you must be engaged all the time. You have to focus and be proactive and look down the road.”

He makes it sound so simple, but it’s not.

By Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the full-scale fire department, including special training and apparatus for aircraft firefighting at the airport, or TUS, is there to serve over 138,000 aircraft operations and nearly 3.4 million passengers that come and go each year.

“What we are here for is to provide a service to those aircraft. In the event of an aircraft fire, incident, or accident, we have statutory and regulatory requirements to provide that service and that’s our singular focus,” Tucker said. “Luckily, the airport has adopted a model where they want to take an all-hazards approach. They want that overarching response to anything, and they’ve funded it, they’ve supported it, and that’s why we’re successful.”

Likewise, the TAA police department has a dual approach to its duties. It is responsible for law enforcement and the security of the airport and every imaginable situation that can arise. Yet they try to fulfill duties with a customer service approach, said TAA Police Chief Scott Bader.

It’s a “welcome wagon” with tight security starting at the front of the airport and working back through the secure areas.

“I look at qualified individuals who have some sort of hospitality or customer service background,” Bader said of the department’s hiring practices. “I think it’s imperative in our job. The

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public is our customer, and we need to understand that we need to treat everybody with the same level of service. I tell my team that they need to treat everybody, regardless of who they are, like they would treat their own mother.”

Along the way, everyone at TUS with a customer service responsibility must be ready for anything, even a global pandemic that continues to impact how the airport operates, with increased efforts to ensure passengers feel safe.

TAA also continues to maintain its highly regarded Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR Accreditation for sanitizing protocols and cleaning practices. Adam Kretschmer, TAA director of maintenance and custodial services, said the effort to make travelers feel safe and sanitary, and more importantly BE safe and sanitary, is never ending.

Kretschmer said TUS was one of the first airports in the world to get the Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR Accreditation after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

“It’s an annual certification that we

have to go through that says that we have a staff, we have the equipment, we have the training programs, to make sure that when a customer comes into our airport that they know that it is disinfected, that it is clean,” Kretschmer said. “And that’s no small feat.”

And in the end, it gives travelers the peace of mind they’re in a safe and secure environment and allows them to enjoy the fun stuff the airport offers–the art displays, the food, the shops and amenities.

“I think one of the things that the TAA prides itself on is the curb-to-gate experience,” said Jessie Allen, director of marketing and strategic communications.

TUS made it a point to engage local artists and food vendors at the airport to create a “sense of place” for those who live here and for those arriving from points abroad.

“I think it’s ingrained in us, this sense of place, that we want people to know they’re in Tucson,” Allen said. “We’re such a diverse community with open arms. It’s all about a sense of Tucson and being one big family.”

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“I think it’s ingrained in us, this sense of place, that we want people to know they’re in Tucson. We’re such a diverse community with open arms. It’s all about a sense of Tucson and being one big family.”
– Jessie Allen Director of Marketing and Strategic Communications Tucson Airport Authority
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