Destination Airports: Salt Lake City, Utah

 - May 2, 2008, 11:04 AM

Salt Lake City is where the Transcontinental Railroad first came together in 1869. Today, it retains its dynamism as one of the fastest-growing major metropolitan areas in the U.S. It has one of the youngest populations, enjoys a diverse economy and is only minutes from some of the finest outdoor recreation–and not just snow skiing–in the country. A banking and high-tech hub, the city is home to huge campuses belonging to companies such as Unisys, Siebel, 3M and L-3.

More aviation-related companies also are building here; Williams International has a large jet engine plant to the north in Ogden and Spectrum Aeronautical will build its new business jets to the south in Spanish Fork.

Salt Lake’s diverse, albeit compact, topography has spawned a bountiful network of corporate-class airports that mostly are located along a 90-mile stretch of the Salt Lake basin’s main north-south ground artery, Interstate Highway 15. I-15 and the basin are bounded by the steep-sloped Wasatch Mountains to the East and the Oquirrh Mountains and Great Salt Lake to the West. Within this relatively narrow, 110-sq-mi band, elevations range from 4,200 to more than 11,000 feet. Routing air traffic into, out of and through the area presents myriad challenges that sometimes close off instrument approaches at certain airports at certain times.

Nevertheless, as Salt Lake City grows, so does the ground traffic on I-15 (and the east-west artery, I-80), and this has added to the appeal of suburban airports with business travelers.

Nearly 400 airplanes are based here, as well as three full-service FBOs and three restaurants. Last year the airport logged 107,000 takeoffs and landings. The main runway and ramps can support aircraft as large as a Boeing 757, and airport manager Ed Rich hopes some day to lure regional airline service to the airport. “One day, [Salt Lake City] will be just like Los Angeles, with commercial service in Provo and Ogden,” he insisted.

Corporate traffic at Ogden is on the rise, thanks not only to Ogden’s convenient location proximate to the Northern suburbs, but also the outstanding general aviation terminal on the field built by aviation enthusiast and industrialist Mel Kemp. The terminal at Kemp Jet Services features two good restaurants, Doolittle’s Deli or the upscale, fine-dining Rickenbacker’s. The two-floor atrium lobby is decorated with large-scale WWI aircraft models suspended from the ceiling against hand-painted background murals of dogfights.

Kemp’s is the kind of place an aviation junkie never wants to leave and is a major draw for the airport. “The boss says, ‘Let’s fly into Ogden where we can rent a car and have a great meal.’ We are seeing a lot of that,” said Rich.

Kemp just bought a competing FBO on the field, Mountain Valley Aviation, and is in the process of remodeling it.

A third FBO on the field, Ogden Jet Center, is located on the approach end
of Runway 25. A distinctively different dining experience can be had nearby in the old terminal and tower building. At the Auger Inn you can dine on hearty, down-home, no-frills breakfast and lunch fare– like a side of tater tots–at a 1950-ish soda counter and trade good-natured barbs with the salty waitresses.

Salt Lake City International
Fourteen airlines fly from here but Delta is the 800-pound gorilla, with 628 daily scheduled flights (out of 800 total for the airport) between it and its commuter carriers. Overall, the airport processed 21.5 million passengers in 2006 and is the nation’s 22nd busiest. The airlines accounted for about 75 percent of this amount. The airport is within 60 miles of 11 world-class ski resorts and adjacent to the Wingpointe Golf Course. It is also a seven-minute drive into the heart of downtown Salt Lake City and there are ample and reasonably priced hotels immediately next to the airport.

There are two FBOs here, and where you go is largely a function of what you need. If you are tired, need pampering and your airplane is broken, try Million Air. The posh terminal was remodeled two years ago and features commanding views of the mountains and even its own theater room. The current owners bought the FBO in 1995 and have built a solid service department with 28 full-time technicians, who work in two shifts daily, and can service just about any type of turbine-powered aircraft. Million Air is also equipped to get you in and out when the weather turns winter foul, with 12 plow trucks and plenty of de-icing equipment.

The Salt Lake Jet Center is not quite as plush and does not offer maintenance but provides good basic FBO services and respectable facilities. This FBO is part of the Rocky Mountain Jet Center chain and has been a fixture at the airport for many years. If you need a quick gas and go, the Jet Center is more than adequate.

Municipal Airport #2
This gem of a small airport is only seven miles southwest of downtown. The ramp areas were recently strengthened and resurfaced, allowing substantially heavier aircraft to use the airport. The move has increased the amount of corporate traffic here recently. There is a non-precision GPS approach here, but you cannot always get it from ATC due to airspace and traffic conflicts with the other area airports. Plans are in the works for a precision GPS (WAAS) approach.

Air Center of Salt Lake, the sole FBO on the field, is building a new hangar and has plans for a new terminal building. The current terminal, although time-worn, has all the basic amenities. The Air Center has an extensive maintenance department with five full-time technicians.

The Million Air FBO here is owned by the same company that operates its counterpart at Salt Lake International. The first floor houses a spacious lobby and pilot shop, and a new hangar next door will be able to house anything up to the size of a GIV. Although there is extensive flight training on the field, this location is attracting more corporate traffic whose passengers are bound for the South Basin or the Eastern ski resorts such as Sundance. The airport has a control tower and a precision approach.

Spanish Fork

Plans are in the works to build a real FBO here…someday. But the lack of amenities, combined with the absence of a precision approach, makes this the region’s airport of last resort for corporate operators.

Heber City
East of the I-15 corridor and 10 minutes away from Sundance and Park City, the FBO here, OK3, features higher prices that reflect the proximity. OK3 is a Pilatus and Cessna service center and technicians there have worked on aircraft as large as commuter jets. The airport is only one block from some good, albeit pricey, restaurants and flight crews receive complimentary gym passes to a nearby health club. During Robert Redford’s annual February Sundance Film Festival, the heavy iron–and the paparazzi–line up here like the Rockettes.