Just last week the Catalina Island Conservancy opened a new runway, constructed as an exercise by the United States Marine Corp and United States Navy, at the island’s historic Airport In The Sky. Catalina Island is located 22 miles off the coast of Southern California and has long been a popular destination for SoCal pilots, who can make the short flight, take a shuttle in town and enjoy the island’s lively city of Avalon.
Are you an aviation enthusiast or pilot? Sign up for our newsletter, full of tips, reviews and more!
The airport was built in 1941 by the Wrigley Family—yes, those Wrigleys—and has been open to the public since 1946. It’s been owned and operated by the Conservancy since 1972. Sadly, over the past several decades the condition of the runway has gone from bad to worse. It has lately become so bad that the Conservancy said that it was in danger of closing. The airport authority had done all it could to patch the strip, spending around a quarter of a million dollars a year to keep the asphalt runway in passable condition, but that approach had been exhausted and the runway’s condition had degraded to the point that many pilots stayed away.
Daunted by the prospects of the high costs and difficult if not impossible logistics of replacing the old runway, the Conservancy did something outside the box. It called in the Marines. Literally.
Over the course of a year and a half, the non-profit owners developed a plan with the USMC and USN to have the services do the construction as part of a Department of Defense initiative called the Innovative Readiness Program. The project gave the military the chance to do a complex engineering project in an isolated locale with difficult terrain and little infrastructure.
For three months Catalina hosted around 100 service members, who lived in tents at the airport and worked long hours installing the runway. Long story short, they nailed it. The new runway is concrete, between four and five inches thick. The new strip is all concrete and measures 3,000 feet long and 60 feet wide.
It’s estimated that the job cost the Conservancy $5 million, which it took in from donations to the cause. Was it worth it? The new strip is estimated to have a useful life of between 75 and 100 years. So we’d say it was worth every penny and then some.