AIRPORT TO GET POSH ADDITION
Plans are taking off, so to speak, for a general aviation center at Tucson International Airport servicing private planes and corporate jets.
Nearly a decade after initial plans were laid, eight private- plane facilities are expected to be built in the coming year at the still-mostly-vacant Tucson Aeroplex, a non-commercial-aircraft hangar site at South Campbell Avenue and East Valencia Road, said James Garcia, senior director of business development for the Tucson Airport Authority.
On Wednesday, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the site for a private- and charter-plane terminal operating under the name Million Air - a Houston-based company that specializes in airport facilities for the rich and famous.
The company has 35 other terminals in North America and Europe that offer amenities such as concierge services, lounge areas and movie theater rooms. The Tucson location, which would be the first in Arizona, is expected to offer those amenities when it is completed next May.
At the groundbreaking, Mayor Bob Walkup and Metropolitan Tucson Chamber of Commerce President Jack Camper said the new facility will be an asset to the region's economic-development efforts.
"I love being ahead of any other city in Arizona," Camper said.
In 1998, the Tucson Airport Authority began formulating plans to turn the approximately 17 acres at the site into the Tucson Aeroplex, an area specifically oriented to noncommercial aviation.
So far, the only building at the site is a storage facility for privately owned planes, built by a group of local business people under the name Real Air. Other tenants that have signed on to build at the site include several similar partnerships, Garcia said.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Airport Authority board approved another future tenant, local startup Isaacson Aviation, which intends to provide charter services and helicopter training, Garcia said.
When fully leased, the Tucson Aeroplex is expected to generate $210,000 in annual revenue for the airport. Five more spaces are still available at the site, Garcia said.
Leasing accounted for about $15.7 million in revenue for the airport in 2006, according to the Airport Authority's annual report.
The authority recognized a growing need for space for private planes and accommodations for corporate jets, Garcia said.
Real Air partner John Hayes, who is a retired technology-startup executive, said he was pleased that the Airport Authority decided to set aside the land for private planes. Hangar space is difficult to find at the airport, he said. The Real Air facility was built in 2005.
"I'm anxious to see them build more hangars out there," Hayes said.
At the groundbreaking Wednesday, Million Air design and construction manager David Lambert said Tucson will be "an important dot on the map" for Million Air.
Lambert said the ease of landing and taking off from Tucson makes it a good refueling stop. The company's high-end clientele would also likely appreciate Tucson's resorts and recreational opportunities, such as golf courses, he added.
"When they stop here, they might tend to stay a little longer," he said.
The Tucson facility, which will include a 20,000-square-foot hangar and 20,000 square feet of office space, will be operated as a franchise of Million Air, and owned by Tucson company Premier Aviation, which currently operates another hangar at the airport.
Premier Air President Ash Vijsaid he is proud to have been picked to run the posh new Million Air terminal.
"We made it into a really nice, class outfit," Vij said of the facility's design.
ABOUT MILLION AIR
* Houston-based operator and franchisor of terminal facilities for privately owned and charter planes.
* Founded in 1985.
* Has 35 locations in North America and Europe, some corporate- owned and some run as franchises.
* The Tucson facility, expected to be completed in May 2008, will be the company's first in Arizona.
* Contact reporter Christie Smythe at 434-4083 or email@example.com
Star reporter Becky Pallack contributed to this report.