Dick Jones and his wife, Chloe Brown, from Cambridge, England, were the first passengers to step off the inaugural SkyWest flight landing at the newly upgraded Canyonlands Field Airport on Tuesday, May 1.
“It’s great!” said Jones and Brown. “We planned our holiday around it.”
An airport fire vehicle shot out a celebratory burst of water across the tarmac as the CRJ200 jet taxied toward the terminal.
“It’s giving a water-cannon salute,” said Layne Watson, a spokesperson for SkyWest, who drove from St. George to greet the plane and its passengers. “It’s a tradition with airlines and airports, as a way to welcome the flight into service.”
Cheerful applause rounded out the informal welcoming ceremony.
After being closed to commercial air service since December, the newly upgraded Canyonlands Field Airport is now servicing daily United Express flights operated by SkyWest Airlines.
Thirty-five passengers aboard the flight arrived from Denver at approximately 2:33 p.m., just four minutes behind its scheduled landing time of 2:29 p.m.
Jones and Brown said they booked the flight “because it was the first flight.” The two came to Moab to visit Jones’ sister, Marty Thomas, who was there to greet him and Brown as they arrived.
Thomas shared her family’s excitement about the airport’s new flight services.
“It’s really important and really convenient for them as well as us; we didn’t have to pick them up in Grand Junction or in Salt Lake. It made it a shorter trip and more convenient,” she said.
The first thing Jones and Brown planned to do after arriving was to “see the Indian ruins.”
The myriad nearby archaeological sites and national parks also drew in two people on the flight who traveled from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Lexia Zungali and Victoria Kauffmand have identical birthdays and now spend their time together visiting national parks across the country.
Zungali said that as the flight was landing, she was surprised to see people on the tarmac and asked the stewardess why people were outside of the terminal with cameras.
“Last year we went to Alaska and this year we wanted to ‘do Utah,’” Zungali said. “We didn’t know it was the first flight.”
Zungali said they booked the flight months ago, and upon hearing that the Canyonlands Field Airport was undergoing a renovation and adding flights, said, “It think it will be really, really, really fantastic for the economy. It’ll boost your economy in Moab.”
As she and Kauffman wheeled their luggage through the terminal, airport workers carried ladders and attended to ongoing terminal improvements. Outside, crews were pouring fresh concrete for the terminal’s new entrance.
“We’ve been working on this for three-and-a-half years,” Canyonlands Field Airport Manager Judd Hill said after the plane’s landing. “We got a plane in, on the day we hoped to get a plane in, so it worked really well. We are definitely excited. As you can see, we have a little bit more work to do around here, but the big thing is, we got our critical items done and now we have more flight service.”
The critical items and major construction upgrades include a larger parking lot, terminal renovation, new bathrooms, security improvements throughout the airport and repaving and widening the main runway.
The construction didn’t appear to bother the incoming passengers; in fact, few passengers said they noticed.
Hill thanked the Grand County Council, Grand County Airport Board, and the airport staff for being helpful in the airport’s renovation and expansion. He thanked his wife, Bryony, for “my not being around for three-and-half years, a lot of the time.”
Hill said it was a happy day for him and the rest of the people who worked to reopen the airport.
Later that day, he said he would go home to prepare a report for the Grand County Council, and then smiled and pointed to his office.
“I’ll be going home. It is my home. I literally have spent more time there, when I go to my office. The last week, I’ve been living in my office. Well, only one night have I worked through the night,” Hill said.
Hill and the Grand County Council are working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a grant process that will keep flights affordable for passengers through a government subsidy program. At last check, the cost of a one-way flight to Denver was $74.
“We’re a very reliable operator, and Moab deserves that, and we’re happy to offer it. That’s one thing passengers can expect when they fly out of Moab on flights operated by SkyWest, is that reliability: we’re going to get you here safe and on time,” Watson said.
SkyWest Airlines providing flights to and from Denver