Parking at the airport is part of the curse and cost of traveling. But if you're one of 115 members of the Tucson Airport Authority, you never have to worry about paying for parking—because it's always free.
In reaction to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Tucson Weekly asking who receives free parking at the Tucson International Airport, staff at the TAA confirmed that all 115 members receive an unrestricted card that allows them 24/7 access to the third floor of the parking garage adjacent to the Tucson International Airport terminal.
That access is also granted to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; Richard Vaughan, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau; and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup.
According to Paula Winn, TAA director of information, the parking isn't considered a perk, but a necessity to assure parking for members to attend monthly meetings, committee meetings and the organization's annual meeting. Members can use the parking cards for leisure travel, too.
It's a policy that has been in place for a long time, Winn says.
"These people have spent a tremendous amount of their time for free on very complex issues," Winn says about the TAA members.
Richard Gruentzel, TAA's vice president of administration and finance, points out that the cards do not allow members to park in the public lots, and therefore do not take spaces from regular travelers. Members can only park in the uncovered area that's reserved for airport employees in the garage adjacent to the terminal.
Regarding the passes provided to Giffords, Vaughn and Walkup, Gruentzel wrote in an e-mail that as a courtesy, all Tucson mayors have received the parking cards "as long as anyone remembers, and each new mayor is given a card automatically."
Gruentzel continues: "Mayor Walkup attends numerous events at the airport each year to support aviation in the community, everything from promoting air service to welcoming new business and jobs to the community. He also supports aviation through his work on a national level."
Giffords' office requested a parking card, but Gruentzel says the representative before her was provided a card, too. The airport, he wrote, is in Giffords' district. (However, this is not true: The vast majority of the airport is actually in Raúl Grijalva's district, and he does not have a parking pass.)
Regarding Vaughn, Gruentzel says the TAA works with the MTCVB closely on marketing that benefits Tucson and the airport.
"Mr. Vaughan was provided a parking card in view of the frequency of conducting business with us at the airport and his traveling to other cities on convention bureau business that benefits TAA, including promoting use of air service to our community and helping us in our efforts with the airlines to obtain additional air service," Gruentzel wrote.
The 115 TAA members include a nine-member board of directors. New board members may be selected from the TAA membership, and the TAA membership votes on all new board members. TAA members meet monthly and work on different committees that focus on such areas as marketing and policy, Winn says.
According to Gruentzel, there are also about 37 life members—people who may no longer have the time to serve as regular members, though the board may want to call upon them for assistance from time to time. TAA's bylaws specify that life members continue to receive the same airport parking privileges as active members.
"As we discussed, TAA members serve on a voluntary basis and receive no compensation. Although not necessarily being as involved as active members on a regular basis, life members are called upon to help TAA if they have expertise in certain areas where it is needed. They also continue to be important and informed voices for TAA in the community through their networks of business, government and other contacts, as they have had the benefit of considerable exposure to aviation issues through participation in council meetings and on the board of directors," Gruentzel wrote.
Winn says the newest life member is former UA President Henry Koffler. Others on the life-member list include Jim H. Click Jr. and Donald Diamond.
In the past, life members have made calls to the Legislature on the airport's behalf, and many life members "are well-connected people," Winn says.
The membership brochure that lists all members and their affiliations reads like a list of area movers and shakers. The 2008 membership brochure (www.tucsonairport.org/media/2008_TAA_Membership_Brochure.pdf), for example, lists John H. Bremond, president of KB Homes; David Goldstein, president of Diamond Ventures Inc.; Robert Shelton, president of the University of Arizona; Timothy Prouty, president and CEO of CB Richard Ellis; Stephen Quinlan, chairman of Long Companies; Richard Imwalle, chairman of the Bank of Tucson; and Louise Francesconi, vice president of Raytheon Company and president of Raytheon Missile Systems.
Winn says members are selected from specific industries in Tucson, particularly those with significant influence or reach in the community.
This connection between the business community and the airport goes back to the airport's inception in 1948. The city of Tucson didn't have the money to build an airport, so a group of businessmen got together to put up the money, and the authority was formed to manage the airport and lease the airport property from the city. Its current long-term lease continues until Oct. 14, 2048.
The authority remains an independent entity under no city or county control, although all TAA members have to be Pima County residents, according to the bylaws. Being independent means the TAA is self-sustaining, Winn says. The airport receives income from property leased by more than 100 tenants, including the Arizona Air National Guard, Raytheon and Atlantic Aviation Services, as well as tenants at Ryan Airfield on West Ajo Way, which is also managed by the TAA. Landing fees paid by the airlines also go into airport coffers.
According to the TAA's 2008 annual report, the organization received $55,061,122 in operating revenues, and its operating expenses came to $33,734,007. For the past 10 years, the airport has received $77 million in federal grants for major airport projects. The TAA has received $18.3 million the past 10 years in matching state funds for smaller airport projects.