Final touch to airport terminal a tribute to Arizona’s “Maverick”

The finishing touch to a $590-million makeover of Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport commemorates its namesake, the late Sen. John McCain.

On Tuesday, a plaque bearing his resemblance was unveiled along with the new north concourse at an event celebrating the completion of the extensive project at the John S. McCain III Terminal 3. 

“My husband would have loved this. As you know, he was an aviator himself. He loved traveling with a zest, and more importantly, traveling to do what was good for the country and the world as well,” said his widow, Cindy McCain, who spoke briefly at the event. 

Holding back tears, she said that when he learned about the terminal being named for him before he died in 2018, it was a “very humbling” moment because he realized he was joining another notable Arizona Congressman — Barry M. Goldwater — whose name graces Terminal 4. 

Arizona hero 

McCain, who was nicknamed a “maverick” for his independent streak, served on Capitol Hill for more than 30 years. Before that, he was a Navy military officer and attack fighter pilot who was shot down over Hanoi during his 23rd bombing mission in 1967. Captured by the North Vietnamese, he spent five and a half years in a prison camp. 

On Aug. 28, 2018, McCain’s determined spirit and life of service were felled by an aggressive brain cancer, glioblastoma. He was 81. Shortly before his death, the Phoenix City Council voted to name Terminal 3 after him.

On Tuesday, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said, “I can think of no better name to  greet locals and visitors alike as they pass through the nation’s No. 1 rated airport.” 

“He left an incredible mark on our state and our nation,” Gallego, who came to the new concourse to witness the unveiling with fellow city council members, aviation department staff and other local dignitaries.  

New North Concourse full of light 

Over four years, the terminal has undergone a complete modernization. Built in 1979, the dim building had become inefficient and shabby. Now, it is transformed into a modern structure filled with light and blue accents. 

Skylights “raining” glass are installed throughout the concourse. Spacious windows reveal views of Camelback Mountain and downtown Phoenix. With 10 new airline gates, every seat in the terminal has access to power and connectivity. Brightly colored signs beckon visitors to the new locally owned restaurants and shops: Ajo Al’s, Scramble and The Phoenix Beer Company, Discover Arizona with Tech-on-the-Go/House of Marley, and Stellar News + Market with Starbucks.

To guide visitors along the connector bridge to the concourse is a beehive-like public art installation with 750 reflective blue and gold aluminum cells guides. It was designed by American light artist and designer James Carpenter. 

Four years in the making 

The unveiling of the new concourse marks the third and final phase of the massive construction project. 

Started in 2016, the first phase reconfigured the way travelers pass through the airport with consolidated security checkpoints, new ticket counters, and a Museum Gallery and outdoor plaza. 

A year later, the terminal was named after Sen. McCain. The second phase was completed in 2019 with the opening of the new south concourse with 15 gates, restaurants and shops.

Both of the new concourses have amenities like animal relief and nursing areas and family restrooms.

Sky Harbor tops all-time high for travelers

At the event Tuesday, Gallego also announced that the airport topped its all-time record with nearly 46.3 million passengers in 2019. Quite a jump from 1979 when seven million passed through. 

“The record-breaking number of passengers Sky Harbor saw in 2019 is another data point highlighting the importance of investing in our airport,” Mayor Gallego stated. “Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is the number one economic engine in the state — yet receives no tax dollars and operates solely with the revenue generated by businesses operating there.”

Sky Harbor has an annual economic impact of more than $38 billion. The airport is entirely funded with airport revenue. The modernization of Terminal 3 was paid for through airport revenues such as parking, concessions, and tenant fees.

North concourse to open Feb. 3; Terminal 2 to shut down 

The new north concourse will start receiving arrival flights February 3. The first departures begin  February 4.

With Terminal 3 complete, the 60-year-old Terminal 2 is being shuttered. All airlines from Terminal 2 will be relocated to Terminal 3 by February 6. 

Terminal 3 will now serve Air Canada, Alaska, Boutique Air, Contour Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, Sun Country and United.

More projects underway 

In order to continue to live up to its nickname as “America’s Friendliest Airport”, other modernization projects are underway including:

  • The 2.5-mile extension of the PHX Sky Train from the terminals to the Rental Car Center that will take more than 80 buses off of the roadways and help alleviate curb congestion.
  • A new eight-gate concourse at Terminal 4 that is slated to open in 2022. It will be occupied by Southwest Airlines and will feature new shops, restaurants and customer amenities.
  • New airlines and flight destinations. Last year, American Airlines launched its first-ever nonstop service from Phoenix to London Heathrow Airport as well as new service to Chihuahua, Mexico. Condor Airlines extended their seasonal service to Frankfurt, Germany. In 2020, Eurowings will also begin nonstop seasonal service to Frankfurt. 

For more information on Sky Harbor’s future development projects, please visit: Sky Harbor development

Victoria Harker

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