Canyonlands Field Airport Director Judd Hill said that of the 7.5 million cost of renovating the airport, the county secured 6 million in grants, with the rest coming from tourism taxes. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

Work on the $17.5 million airport renovation is continuing, but Canyonlands Field Airport Director Judd Hill said the airport is open and functioning – aside from a punch list of about 100 things that still need to be completed.

Canyonlands Field Airport reopened May 1 with a new daily flight service connecting air passengers to Denver through United’s SkyWest Airlines, but the runway, taxiway and terminal are still under construction.

Leading up to the arrival of the first flight, members of the Grand County Airport Board said the building was approved for use as the first incoming flight was in-air.

“Honest to goodness, that’s when the inspectors approved that building, with 18 minutes to go, and then they left,” airport board member Bill Hawley said during the board’s meeting on May 7. “Everybody did a good job, and it all turned out.”

As the first 50-passenger jet touched down, crews were still pouring concrete at the airport’s front entrance; ladders were up in the terminal as workers adjusted wiring and lighting.

“We still have quite a punch list that needs to be done before it’s a finished project,” Hill said in his report to the airport board.

Two main items need to be completed for construction on the runway: grooving and painting. The airport will be closed nightly, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., in the coming weeks to allow for work to be done on the runway.

Armstrong Consultants is managing the $13.8-million runway construction project. The runway was widened by 33 percent, Hill said.

Estimated costs incurred for the runway and taxiway include a $250,000 ramp, preventive maintenance on aircraft parking, $70,000 for storm-water drainage and $1 million for reinforced concrete stands.

Hill said the funding for the airport construction came from $16 million in grants, with the remainder paid for by tourist-derived taxes.

The airport board said the plan is to have all construction projects completed by May 23.

Hill, Hawley and the board members said the final punch list items in the $1.75 million terminal project entail fixing paint blemishes, painting stucco, adjusting baseboards and removing tape from windows.

The process moving forward is to allow contractors and crews to work through the list, with Hill and the board doing walk-throughs to check on the finalized construction.

For the most part, board members said, the county itself has managed the terminal renovation project.

The parking lot will be regraded and graveled, with enough space to accommodate 200 vehicles.

“It will be the same gravel parking lot,” said Hill. “It’s $100,000 versus $2 million if we wanted a paved parking lot.”

Hill is developing a fee schedule for parking in the lot, which is expected to be in place by June. There was no estimate available for what the possible parking fees will be.

REOPENING BRINGS NEW JOBS

SkyWest Airlines created 10 jobs at the airport, according to SkyWest Airlines Corporate Communications spokesperson Katelyn Boulton. Nine employees are part time, one is full time, and the company said two more employees will be starting soon.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also actively hiring to fill positions at the airport. Those positions are part time, but come with full-time federal benefits, Hill said.

The county itself, however, has not increased the number of staff it has at the airport.

“With doubling the size of the airport, what do we need to do about staff?” Hawley asked the board.

“I did request staff funding for this calendar year, (but) did not receive it,” Hill said. Hill suggested asking the county again in the future for an increase in funding to add more staff to the airport.

Hill reported to the board that the businesses who operate out of the airport, like Redtail Air Adventures and SkyDive Moab, were impacted by the airport’s extended closure through the winter during the construction.

A temporary runway was used at the airport to allow for some businesses to operate, and while business managers working there said they were impacted by a loss of revenue during the four-month closure, they all said the airport’s renovation and expansion is an overall benefit for business and the community.

“We have more staff than we ever had at SkyDive Moab in anticipation that this plane will bring in more customers. We are also looking to build or buy a bigger hangar to support the staff and customers,” said Keith MacBeth, who owns SkyDive Moab with his brother, Clint. “We are also putting more money into our advertising budget.”

SkyWest’s flight service to Moab is reportedly SkyWest’s largest inaugural flight, with 35 passengers aboard, according to a discussion by board members. On May 7, Hill said 48 passengers departed for Denver, and another 30 passengers were scheduled to leave in the evening.

With about $80,000 spent by the Moab Area Travel Council and SkyWest on tourism advertising in Colorado and Utah, some, like travel council director Elaine Gizler, said the increase in tourism will make a positive impact on Moab’s local economy.

GRAND OPENING

The airport’s grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting scheduled for June 2 will begin at 9:30 a.m.

Skydivers, hot air balloons, military flyovers and other aircraft will do demonstrations and flyovers. The Experimental Aircraft Association is bringing in three planes, Hawley said, and will be giving free plane rides to children (ages 3 to 17). Food trucks will be on site to serve lunch. The ceremony is planned to end at 2 p.m.

“We expect a couple of hundred people to come,” Hill said. “As far as the general public, that’s an unknown.”

$17.5 million project nearly complete

“Honest to goodness, that’s when the inspectors approved that building, with 18 minutes to go, and then they left.” – Bill Hawley