Blog Post

2/12/15: Flight Plan: Utah quite possibly has the best airport in the country

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in Utah Business

One of my favorite signs in Utah is the electronic sign along I-80 just east of the airport that notifies drivers that downtown Salt Lake City is a mere five minutes away. It is a powerful reminder of the convenience of the Salt Lake City International Airport and the extraordinary asset it is to the Utah economy.

I have served on the Airport Board for five years and last month finished my service as chair. It has been a phenomenal experience and I want to share some of what I learned. Stats are important, and I’m going to share a few, but I want to share something more personal. I want to impart my feelings as I’ve rubbed shoulders with the professional staff, toured the facilities, poured over the plans for the rebuild and reviewed the financial statements. There is a culture of professionalism, competency and fiscal strength at the airport that serves this community extremely well.

Economic Hub

In a very real way, airports are like a major city with roads and transit, parking, taxis, businesses, a police force and lots of people. They are large, complex and highly specialized. Airports have their own language, are beholden to higher powers (like the Federal Aviation Administration) and value safety like a parent loves a child. They serve the community every day of the year with no holidays or spring breaks. They operate in all sorts of weather, accommodate all sorts of emergencies and process tremendous volume.

In 2014 the Salt Lake City International Airport served over 21 million passengers. It is the front door to our state and incredibly important to our economy and way of life.

Last year the Salt Lake City Department of Airports embarked on a multi-year, $1.8 billion rebuild of the airport. We can all take comfort that they do so from a position of financial strength. The airport currently has no debt and over $400 million of cash on hand. There will be no tax increase to pay for our new state-of-the-art terminal. The funding will come primarily from savings, gate and rental car fees, concession revenue and grants.

Behind the Scenes

So much of what goes on at the airport is mostly invisible to the flying public. An air traffic controller told me he thinks our airspace is more complicated than that of Chicago O’Hare. He said the mountains on both sides, birds from Great Salt Lake, winter weather, the flight path of the South Valley Regional Airport and Hill Air Force Base make our airspace quite complex and technically challenging to controllers.

The Salt Lake City International Airport also has one of the foremost experts in the country on wildlife control. Every day, airfield experts use sound, nets, cages, diversion techniques and other methods to keep birds away from the runways—a difficult task with the Great Salt Lake ecosystem next door. Just think of the “Miracle on the Hudson” and you’ll remember why bird strikes are a major safety issue at airports. We have a team of pros working on our behalf.

Snow, ice and frost cause many challenges at an airport. The Salt Lak