Tuscaloosa National Airport
Tuscaloosa National Airport
Van De Graaff Field
NAIP image 2006
|Owner||City of Tuscaloosa|
|Operator||City of Tuscaloosa Department of Transportation, Airport Management Division|
|Location||Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, U.S.|
|Elevation AMSL||170 ft / 52 m|
Tuscaloosa National Airport (IATA: TCL, ICAO: KTCL, FAA LID: TCL) is 3.5 miles northwest of Tuscaloosa, in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The airport is owned and operated by the City of Tuscaloosa. The FAA's National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2019–2023 categorized the airport as a general aviation facility. The City of Tuscaloosa changed the name of the airport that had formerly operated under the name Tuscaloosa Regional Airport, in March 2019, to reflect the FAA's official designation as a national airport, one of only 89 in the nation.
Tuscaloosa National Airport had 2,400 commercial passenger boardings (enplanements) in calendar year 2017. Most of this traffic was athletic charters from the University of Alabama. The Tuscaloosa Industrial Park is next to the airport.
Much of the airport property is bordered by the city limits of Northport, Alabama. In fact, the airport and the neighboring Industrial Park are the only areas included in the Tuscaloosa city limits west of Alabama Highway 69 and north of the Black Warrior River.
Tuscaloosa National Airport covers 724 acres (293 ha) at an elevation of 170 feet (52 m). It has two asphalt runways: 4/22 is 6,499 by 150 feet (1,981 x 46 m) and 11/29 is 4,001 by 100 feet (1,220 x 30 m). Runway 4 has an Instrument Landing System and approach lights, allowing landings in visibility as low as a half mile.
In 2010 the airport had 55,763 aircraft operations, average 152 per day: 71% general aviation, 27% military, 2% air taxi, and <1% airline. 76 aircraft were then based at the airport: 60% single-engine, 24% multi-engine, 8% jet and 8% helicopter.
In 1939 Oliver Parks was brought to Alabama to set up a Civilian Pilot Training Program, CPTP, for the University of Alabama. A brick hangar was built on the property and the first class of students were licensed before the end of 1939. The airport was opened in April 1940 as Van De Graaff Field. It originally consisted of 4 turf runways: 00/18 (2500 by 500 feet), 04/22 (3777 by 600 feet), 09/27 (4082 by 600 feet), 13/31 (5208 by 600 feet).
World War II
During World War II, the field was revamped to include a single main runway (the current 11/29). The rest of the field was usable as an all-way field.
The Civil Aeronautics Administration designated van de Graff Field as an intermediate field (#59). It operated as a United States Army Air Forces primary (phase 1) pilot training field by a detachment of the 51st Flying Training Group, Greenville Army Airfield, Mississippi. In addition to the main field, the following known sub-bases and auxiliaries were used:
- Albright Auxiliary Field (Undetermined Location)
- Foster Auxiliary Field
- Knauer Auxiliary Field
- Moody Auxiliary Field
- Rice Auxiliary Field
Pilot training was provided under contact by the Alabama Institute of Aeronautics, Inc. Flying training was performed primarily with Fairchild PT-19s, in addition to PT-17 Stearmans and a few P-40 Warhawks. Beginning in June 1943, Free French Air Force flight cadets began to arrive at the school for Primary flight training, having graduated from the preflight screening school at Craig Field.
Military operations were inactivated on September 8, 1944, with the drawdown of AAFTC's pilot training program. Free French training was transferred to the Hawthorne School of Aeronautics, Orangeburg, South Carolina. The airfield was turned over to city control at the end of the war though the War Assets Administration.
Commercial air service
Runway 11/29 was paved in the early 1950s. A northeast-southwest runway (4/22) was built in 1970, along with a passenger terminal, to facilitate jet service. Airline service to Tuscaloosa began on June 10, 1949, on a 25-seat Douglas DC-3 as one of the original six destinations served by Southern Airways. Southern later served Tuscaloosa with Martin 4-0-4 piston-powered propeller aircraft and then introduced Douglas DC-9-10 jet service by 1972. Service would peak in the mid-1970s with four daily departures to Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans. According to the Official Airline Guide (OAG), in early 1976 Southern was operating four DC-9 jet flights a day into the airport with two nonstops from Atlanta as well as two nonstops from Columbus, MS in addition to a daily nonstop Martin 4-0-4 flight from Atlanta, two Martin 4-0-4 nonstops from Columbus, MS, a nonstop Martin 4-0-4 flight from Tupelo, MS and three direct Martin 4-0-4 flights a day from Memphis via Columbus or Tupelo for a total of eight flights on weekdays. In 1979 Southern and North Central Airlines merged to form Republic Airlines. According to the OAG, in 1981 Republic was operating four flights a day into the airport including two Douglas DC-9-10 jet nonstops from Atlanta plus a third direct DC-9-10 flight from Atlanta via Columbus as well as one direct Convair 580 turboprop flight from Memphis via Columbus, MS. Republic subsequently pulled out of Tuscaloosa on June 1, 1984, as most passengers were drawn to nearby Birmingham's airport. Briefly following the exit of Republic, Sunbelt Airlines provided two daily flights to Memphis from June 1 through its elimination of service on September 13, 1984. A Sunbelt Airlines route map in 1984 depicts direct service to Memphis flown via Tupelo with Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante commuter turboprops.
On April 15, 1986 American Eagle began flying between Tuscaloosa and Nashville. The service was initially operated by Air Midwest and operated three times daily from Tuscaloosa with 19 seat Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner commuter propjets. According to the OAG, in 1994 American Eagle was operating three nonstop flights a day with British Aerospace BAe Jetstream 31 and Saab 340 commuter propjets from the Nashville hub operated at the time by American Airlines. Service ended with the closure of the Nashville hub in June 1996, with service being redirected to Dallas/Fort Worth on 34 seat Saab 340s via Jackson. Due to dwindling passenger counts, the city voluntarily removed itself from the Essential Air Service (EAS) program resulting in service being discontinued on April 18, 1997.
Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA) flew between Tuscaloosa and Atlanta from 1982 to June 1992. The OAG lists six flights a day into the airport in 1985 operated by ASA as Delta Connection flights on behalf of Delta Air Lines with nonstop service from Atlanta, Memphis, Columbus, GA and Gadsden, AL with all service flown with Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante commuter turboprops. In late 1989, two airlines were serving Tuscaloosa according to the OAG: American Eagle with three direct flights a day from Nashville via a stop in Columbus, MS or Tupelo, MS flown with Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner commuter propjets and Atlantic Southeast Airlines operating as the Delta Connection with three direct flights a day from Atlanta via a stop in Anniston, AL or Columbus, MS flown with Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia commuter propjets. GP Express Airlines would continue service to Atlanta from June 6, 1992, through the elimination of its EAS subsidy on June 30, 1994. A GP Express route map in 1992 depicts nonstop flights to Atlanta, Anniston and Hattiesburg, MS with the flights to Anniston continuing on to Atlanta.
No airlines have served Tuscaloosa on a scheduled basis since the departure of American Eagle in 1997.
Attempts to restore commercial service
In the 2000s (decade) the city and the airport tried to lure airlines back to the airport. Between 2002 and 2006 the airport received $2.2 million in federal, state, and local money to improve its facilities, including $400,000 from the FAA as part of a program to help restore airline service to smaller cities. The city matched the grant with $100,000 of local funding. In 2006 the city authorized paying $8500 to a consulting firm to court airlines in an effort to revive service to the airport. City and airport officials stated their belief that the area was in a different economic picture with the Mercedes-Benz plant in the city (the only one in North America) and new developments around the campus of the University of Alabama, including an expansion to Bryant–Denny Stadium. Hopes of commercial service returning to West Alabama were revived again in 2019 as part of Tuscaloosa Mayor's Walt Maddox Elevate Tuscaloosa proposal included $15 million in funding that would receive matching funds to renovate the terminal at Tuscaloosa National to make the growing city more appealing to commercial airlines. 
DayJet announced per seat VLJ service on two pilot planes nonstop to 14 hubs in 3 states in July 2008 from Tuscaloosa. DayJet discontinued all passenger service operations on September 19, 2008 citing the inability to raise financing needed for continued operations.
While visiting Tuscaloosa on April 29, 2011, to assess devastation reliefs efforts in the wake of the April 27th tornado disaster, President Barack Obama landed at then-Tuscaloosa Regional Airport in the Boeing C-32 presidential transport plane. The C-32 is the U.S. Air Force designation for the Boeing 757-200 jetliner.
Jet charters appear at Tuscaloosa, but scheduled air service has eluded Tuscaloosa National to date.
Many charters fly college football, basketball, baseball, softball, gymnastics, and volleyball teams visiting the Alabama Crimson Tide, or take the University of Alabama teams to their away games. Most Alabama football charters are operated by Delta Air Lines using the Boeing 757. Visiting football charters are operated by many carriers typically using either Boeing 737s or Boeing 757s. Many visiting football teams fly into Birmingham and lodge there, commuting to Tuscaloosa on game day, since there is often not enough available hotel rooms to accommodate a football team's traveling party under one roof. In this case, although the team arrives at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, they will usually depart from Tuscaloosa National Airport after the game. Sometimes more than one aircraft is used for larger games, with one flying the team and support staff and the other flying university alumni or fans that have paid for a charter. Baseball, basketball, gymnastics, softball, and volleyball charters are typically operated on a Boeing 737, CRJ200, CRJ700, ERJ 135/145, EMB 120, or Saab 2000. There are also freight charters commonly operated by McDonnell Douglas DC-9s and Boeing 727s to supply the automotive companies which support the Mercedes Benz manufacturing plant.
- FAA Airport Master Record for TCL ( PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. Effective 30 June 2011.
- National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2019–2023: Appendix A (PDF, 2.03 MB). Federal Aviation Administration. Updated 1 November 2018.
- Morton, Jason (March 11, 2019). "Tuscaloosa airport gets 'national' name under new classification". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 1A.
- Passenger Boarding (Enplanement) and All-Cargo Data for U.S. Airports. Federal Aviation Administration. Updated 7 November 2018.
- FlightAware.com Tuscaloosa National Airport FBOs
- Gilbert Guinn. The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South and the Allies' Daring Plan.
- Free French Air Force primary trainign school
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.
- Shaw, Frederick J. (2004), Locating Air Force Base Sites History’s Legacy, Air Force History and Museums Program, United States Air Force, Washington DC, 2004.
- Manning, Thomas A. (2005), History of Air Education and Training Command, 1942–2002. Office of History and Research, Headquarters, AETC, Randolph AFB, Texas ASIN: B000NYX3PC
- Nicholson, Gilbert (April 18, 1997). "1970s saw 8 flights a day from Tuscaloosa". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 4A.
- Feb. 1, Official Airline Guide, North American edition, Tuscaloosa flight schedules
- http://www.departedflights.com, April 1, 1981 Official Airline Guide (OAG), Tuscaloosa & Columbus, MS flight schedules
- Ochoa, Mandy (April 10, 1984). "Leaders urge Republic to reconsider June 1 pullout". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 3.
- Heine, Max (September 11, 1984). "Airline leaving Tuscaloosa". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 3.
- http://www.departedflights.com, Sept. 15, 1984 Sunbelt Airlines route map
- Reporters, Staff (April 8, 1986). "Airline switching Nashville flights to Dallas hub". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 1.
- Sept. 15, 1994 OAG Desktop Flight Guide, North American edition, Tuscaloosa flight schedules
- Nicholson, Gilbert (June 14, 1996). "Tuscaloosa-Nashville air link starts April 15". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 5A.
- Nicholson, Gilbert (April 18, 1997). "Last call for boarding...Tuscaloosa loses its airline service today". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 1A.
- http://www.departedflights.com, Official Airline Guide (OAG), Tuscaloosa flight schedules
- http://www.departedflights.com, Dec. 15, 1989 Official Airline Guide (OAG), Tuscaloosa, Anniston, AL & Columbus, MS flight schedules
- Nicholson, Gilbert (May 6, 1994). "Flights to Atlanta will end". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 1A.
- http://www.departedflights.com, Oct. 26, 1992 GP Express route map
- Editorial Staff (October 14, 2001). "We need to find some use for municipal airport". The Tuscaloosa News. p. 9A.
- Morton, Jason (November 24, 2006). "Federal dollars help airport grow". The Tuscaloosa News. New York Times Company.
- Lee, Suevon (August 15, 2006). "Airport receives $400,000 grant; Money for new airline service, could restore commercial status". The Tuscaloosa News. New York Times Company.
- DayJet Discontinues Passenger Operations
- "Tuscaloosa Regional Airport" (PDF). (385 KiB) from City of Tuscaloosa
- Aerial image as of 24 February 1999 from USGS The National Map
- (PDF), effective May 21, 2020
- FAA Terminal Procedures for TCL, effective May 21, 2020
- AC-U-KWIK information for KTCL
- Resources for this airport: