Tucson International Airport (Federal Aviation Administration Identifier Code: TUS), also known as 'Tucson International' and often abbreviated as 'TIA,' is a publicly-owned, joint-use airport approximately nine miles southeast of the central business districts, the University of Arizona and downtown Tucson, Arizona. 


TIA is the largest and busiest airport within Pima County and the region of Southern Arizona. It serves second statewide behind Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport. 




The Tucson Airport Authority (TAA) operates Tucson International Airport and Ryan Airfield (FAA ID Code: RYN) located on Tucson's southside. The TAA is currently under the direction of President and CEO, Danette Bewley. The TAA manages both properties under the following mission statement:


"The mission of Tucson Airport Authority is to promote aviation and foster economic development by strategically planning, developing, and operating the most effective and efficient airport system for southern Arizona." 






The nearly year-round sunshine, clear skies, and dry climate have made Tucson a hotbed for aviation and travel long before the city's boom following the Second World War and the "Golden Age" of flying. 


On February 19, 1910, seven years after the Wright brother's debut flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a crowd gathered as American pioneering airman, Charles "the Bird Man" Keeney Hamilton flew the first plane in Tucson, landing his aircraft off the east bank of the Santa Cruz River at the former Elysian Grove Amusement Park, nearby the present-day Tucson Convention Center. 


In 1915, Katherine Stinson, the nation's first woman commissioned mail pilot made the first airmail delivery in Arizona. Following an exhibition at the Southern Arizona Pima County Fairgrounds, Stinson dropped bagged mail onto a vacant lot by the downtown post office establishing mail route 668.001 for the City of Tucson. 


In the subsequent years, as interests in flight grew around the country, former Federal Judge William Henry Sawtelle developed a landing strip on his property off North Oracle Road. Sawtelle's strip became Tucson's first "airport" for the few private aircraft in the area. However, with no formal relationship to the City of Tucson, Sawtelle saw an opportunity in a building boom that caught the Old Pueblo following the end of the First World War and subdivided the private landing strip for redevelopment. 




By late 1918, five aviation enthusiasts and developers came together and selected an 84-acre site at the corner of South Six Avenue and Irvington Road, on what is presently the Tucson Rodeo Grounds. On July 21, 1919, funding for McCauley Field (named for a locally well-known United States Air Service pilot, Major T.C. McCauley) was approved by the Tucson City Council and Tucson Chamber of Commerce. Development of landing strips and hangars quickly followed suit, of which the latter still stands today.


On November 20, 1919, Swede Myerhofer piloted the first flight to touch down at Macauley Field carrying Tucson City Councilman Randolph E. Fishburn. The field was later rededicated in the councilman's honor as Fishburn Field in 1920.


By 1923 the small airport had been renamed Tucson Municipal Flying Field, and had become a regular stop for refueling and servicing aircraft as well as used by Army aircraft patrols seeking to secure the Southern Border against Mexican revolutionaries like Pancho Villa. 


To accommodate an increase in both civilian and military air traffic and resolve issues involving takeoffs and landings of newer, larger aircraft, the Tucson City Council acquired a 1280-acre site off the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad, near South Alvernon Way by 1927. In 1928, Standard Airlines, the preeminent American Airlines, began scheduled commercial airline service from the new Tucson Municipal Airport


The field would later be dubbed Davis-Monthan, to honor two Tucsonan aviators lost in the Second World War, Lieutenant Samuel H. Davis, and Lieutenant Oscar Monthan. By 1941, the War Department oversaw the airport at-large and devoted it's operations to wartime efforts. The airport was established as Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (DMAFB). That same year, the City of Tucson purchased an area of 2,500 acres on the city's southside to house an airport independent of DMAFB.




On April 12, 1948, the Tucson Airport Authority was created by a state charter as a nonprofit organization to manage and develop the city's new southside airport and later, existing facilities at Ryan Airfield since vacated after the war.  


On October 14, 1948, the City of Tucson and the TAA (then comprising of 15 city and business leaders, including the local Ford motor-mogul Monte Mansfield) entered a decades-long lease agreement, later extended to 2048. 




By 1949, American Airlines began regularly scheduled flights to the new Tucson Municipal Airport followed by Frontier Airlines in 1950. Just as soon as commercial airline service began to take off worldwide, so too did it in Tucson. Trans World Airlines joined the two other operators at Tucson Municipal Airport with service beginning in December 1956.


In 1958, the third tallest building in Tucson opened adjacent to the Tucson Municipal Airport terminal building. To commemorate a decade of service to the airport, the TAA erected a $535,000 state-of-the-art air traffic control tower. The tower also signifies the location of a modern "airliner terminal" designed by architect Terry Atkinson. It is showcased to the public by the end of 1961. 


The same year, TUS grew its domestic operators with the addition of Continental and truly became an international airport when flights began arriving from Aeronaves de Mexico (later, Aeromexico) throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 


By November 1963, Atkinson's newly designed terminal building opened at the south end of Tucson Boulevard. The three-level structure featured spacious terminals, six airline operators, dining options, a U.S. Customs inspections station, and a new name, Tucson International Airport


Several series of renovations occurred throughout the mid-1980s doubling the size of the terminals to 300,000 square feet and again in the mid-2000s which improved the airport's concourse and added an additional 82,000 square feet for baggage claim, rental car facilities, parking garages and general improvements throughout the airport, such as art installations, additional security, shopping/dining options, and WI-FI.




Tucson International Airport currently has eight airline operators:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines
  • United Airlines




The update facade of Tucson International Airport circa 2007. Courtesy of Flickr user Buzz Jackson.


The iconic 1958 air traffic control tower of the modern terminal building circa 2015. Courtesy of Flickr user Kelly Michals.















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