FLORENCE — Tails rise from the desert like shark fins from the water.
Drivers on Interstate 10 can usually spot the tails from many of the aircraft stored at Pinal Air Park, but nothing else. It leads to the mystery of what is really on the west side of I-10. A secret training base? Testing grounds for new aircraft? Or perhaps a site for the CIA?
Built in the early 40’s, the then named “Marana Army Air Field” trained pilots for World War II. The field was no longer used and decommissioned in 1948 when it was taken over by Pinal County. Since then, Pinal Air Park has been used primarily as a maintenance center for commercial aircraft and a storage facility for unused commercial aircraft
In 1975, Evergreen Aviation became the sole tenant for the maintenance facility. The company erected a guard post just outside the entrance of Pinal Air Park turning away those who did not have business at the facility.
“When I was elected in 2012 I took a trip out to the airport to see what was going on out there and I was turned away at the gate,” stated Chairman Todd House. “Here it is, we own the air park and I couldn’t even enter it.”
Chairman House joined thousands of people who have been turned around after exiting I-10 at Pinal Air Park Road and for Airport Economic Development Director Jim Petty, limiting access was a major problem at the property.
“There was a lot of activity through Evergreen’s business at the air park,” Petty said. “But once we started looking closer entire facility, we find out more and more Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compliance problems. One of those was exclusive use by Evergreen.”
Exclusive use was just one of five major compliance issues for Pinal Air Park. Not allowing public access to the facility was another issue. The Board of Supervisors took a major step forward to erasing those problems when in 2013 they adopted the fourth amendment to a 1992 lease with Evergreen Maintenance. The amendment cured the many FAA identified compliance issues.
“I can say there is no longer a manned guard post at the entrance,” Petty said. “I can also say there is more than one business operating there. But to get FAA grants, you must abide to 39 grant assurances they look for in an application. But thanks to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Aviation Group, we have been able to take care of some problems that needed to be addressed immediately.”
Thanks to three major grants from ADOT’s Aviation Group, Pinal County has been able to repave the 6,850 foot runway, complete a taxiway overlay and develop a master plan for the air park.
There has been so much progress at Pinal Air Park that on Tuesday, May 3, it was named ADOT’s 2016 Airport of the Year at the Arizona Airports Association annual conference.
“I am extremely pleased,” said Vice-Chairman Anthony Smith. “This air park has tons of potential to be an asset in our economic development tool box. Winning this designation goes miles to show aviation businesses that we are serious when it comes to making Pinal Air Park a major destination for them”
Pinal Air Park joins San Manuel Airport as winning ADOT’s Airport of the Year honors. San Manuel won it in 2001.
“It’s a nice distinction,” Petty said. “The only two airports under our supervision have won this award. It’s goes to show everyone that we are serious when it comes to earning the business of the aviation community, both commercial and private.”