Catalina Airport Runway to be Restored by U.S. Marines

Much needed repair project will preserve the airport for the future.

Catalina Airport
Catalina Airport sits on top of a mountain on an island offshore southern California.Pia Bergqvist

Anyone who has flown in to Catalina Airport (AVX), also named “Airport in the Sky” as it is situated atop a 1,602-foot mountain on Catalina Island about 20 miles off the beach-clad shores of southern California, knows the airport has long been in pretty bad shape. Potholes and pebbles make the runway best suited for rugged taildraggers. But soon the 3,250-foot runway will get the facelift it so badly needs. A $5 million project is underway to repair the runway, according to a press release from the Catalina Conservancy.

The money for the repair project comes from donations to the Conservancy, the release said. While the airport is owned by the Conservancy, the public is invited to visit. A $25 landing fee is required for visitors who fly in. Visitors can enjoy a $100 bison burger at the DC-3 Gifts and Grill restaurant, jump on a bus to the town of Avalon, or take a scenic hike along a path that leads around the airport or to a local campground if an overnight stay is possible. ”The Airport in the Sky is an historic and critical asset, providing access to Catalina Island for first responders, travelers and more than 2 million tons of freight each year,” said Catalina Island Conservancy president and CEO, Tony Budrovich. “With this runway repair project, I would project more than 75 years of runway operations in our future.”

U.S. Marines from the local I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) based at the local Camp Pendleton will participate in the runway project and, in addition to repairing the ailing runway, will use the airport project for training as part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program, which merges military training with public needs. “This challenging project allows Marines to gain valuable experience in repairing damaged runways, and increases our capabilities and readiness to tackle a range of military operations across the globe,” said Lt. Colonel Duncan Buchanan of I MEF.

Flights to Catalina Island were first handled in seaplanes, with the first operation happening as early as 1912 when Glenn Martin reportedly completed what could have been the longest overseas flight at that time - a 27-minute journey from Newport Beach. A seaport still exists near Avalon, which also supports public boat service for visitors from the mainland.

The Airport in the Sky opened in 1946, when Catalina Airlines was founded. The work for the airport was commissioned by chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley’s family that owned the island and developed it as a tourist destination in the early 1900s.