The Tucson Airport Authority board on Tuesday approved a long-awaited, seven-year joint use agreement for the Morris Air National Guard Base at Tucson International Airport that will allow the airport to recover more than $1 million in back fees.
But it’s back to the drawing board for a separate land agreement to allow the base and its host 162nd Wing to install a much-needed new main entry gate to be built off South Park Avenue south of East Valencia Road.
Last August, the TAA board approved a letter of intent to provide land for the new gate and relocate an existing aviation business hangar on the site.
But in February, the airport was informed that the proposed use of a “military construction cooperative agreement” to fund the relocation of an existing aerospace business hangar would not be legal because the funds would not be put to military use.
Col. Allen Kinnison, commander of the 162nd Wing Operations Group, told the TAA board the Guard would seek to buy 9.8 acres owned by the airport and 19 adjacent acres owned by the city of Tucson for the new gate, after the National Guard’s legal department rejected the earlier plan.
The current main gate to the Morris Air Guard Base on East Valencia Road is far below security standards and, with only a small area to allow cars to line up on the property, creates hazardous queues on Valencia as Guard personnel arrive.
The 162nd Wing is the Guard’s biggest F-16 fighter training base, with 80 aircraft and nearly 1,900 personnel, and it also hosts training for allied nations that fly the F-16. The base has an annual estimated economic impact of $383 million, including $94 million in payroll.
There is about one car crash per quarter at the gate, including a fender-bender just Tuesday morning, Kinnison said.
“It’s just wholly inadequate and has been identified as such since 2011,” Kinnison said.
Airport Authority President and CEO Bonnie Allin and several board members said they agree the gate is needed and support the Guard’s plan.
But they told Kinnison they remain concerned about the cost of the relocation of a hangar owned by Aerovation Inc. on the proposed gate site. The Tucson-based company has about 70 employees and provides aircraft modifications, engineering and related services to the aviation and defense industries.
Allin said that under federal regulations, the Guard should pay for the relocation and replacement of the company’s hangar, at no cost to Aerovation.
The company has invested more than $1.5 million in improvements to the hangar property as part of a long-term lease, the airport says.
But Kinnison said the Guard would be negotiating only the purchase of the property, which is owned by the city and leased to the airport, and it would be the airport’s responsibility to relocate Aerovation.
Kinnison said he doubts the appraised value of the land and hangar would cover the replacement cost, though it may come close.
With design and construction expected to take two years, Aerovation and the airport would have time to plan to relocate the business, Kinnison said.
Marc Hewitt, chief of the Air National Guard Asset Management Division, said via a phone link that the service would base its purchase offer on the appraised value of the property and structures as determined by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“There may be some room for negotiations, but the starting point is the appraised value,” he said.
Airport Authority board chair Lisa Lovallo and member Bruce Dusenberry said keeping Aerovation in business is a major priority for the airport.
“We want to see the new gate happen, we want the airfield to be safe and we want Aerovation to have a thriving business,” Lovallo said, adding that the airport already has identified new space for the business.
Allin said many issues now need to be addressed to come up with a new agreement.
“This is a completely different situation and will require us to go back and rework this,” she said, adding that disposal of airport land must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
NEW JOINT USE AGREEMENT
The joint use agreement approved Tuesday is the first since the last agreement expired in September 2014, so the new pact retroactively covers about $1.5 million in unpaid fees and carries through to September 2021.
Based on the 162nd Wing’s proportionate use of the airport, the use fees total about 18.5 percent of TIA’s airfield maintenance costs, starting at $390,501 for the first year and increasing 3 percent annually through the life of the agreement, to about $466,000 by 2021, the airport said.
But the National Guard has said it can no longer pay for the use of TIA by other, itinerant military aircraft, so those users will be tracked by the airport with the Guard’s help and billed separately.
The change was the result of a finding by the National Guard Bureau that it could not directly pay use fees for visiting units.