Canyonlands Regional Airport
a dual-use airport that is putting its customers on the right flight path
Focused on both its commercial and General Aviation passengers, Canyonlands Regional Airport is flying to new heights
“You never know where life is going to take you,” Tammy Howland, Airport Director for Canyonlands Regional Airport remarks as we sat down with her to discuss what is planned for this dynamic and fast-growing dual-use airport, located 20 miles from the beautiful town of Moab, Utah.
Certainly, Howland is a living example of how true this adage really is. While at the helm of an airport that sees both commercial and general aviation flights land and take off daily, she admittedly says that this job was never ‘planned’. It was, rather, the result of being in the right time at the right place, following a new passion for aviation and “trial by fire”.
The ‘fire’ component was quite fitting for Howland and a great starting point to embark on her aviation career having many years of experience under her belt as a firefighter. Firefighting is the career that precisely led to her current position.
“I started here at the airport about 12 years ago. I was an implant from Michigan,” she begins.
“When I first began at the airport there was only one full-time person on staff-the Airport Manager- and only a handful of local firefighters that would come out and staff the ARFF truck during the flight because that was all that was required under FAA regulations back then.”
“My background is firefighting and I was looking for ways to stay involved in firefighting in some form. I joined the local fire department in Moab until this part-time position at Canyonland Regional Airport was posted.”
Not afraid of a new challenge, Howland applied and successfully secured the position of part-time ARFF (Aircraft Rescue FireFighter) at the airport. She was convinced that this would be a great career fit, marrying her substantial experience as a firefighter with her newfound love of aviation that she had acquired over the last few years leading up to accepting the offer.
“I thought that this might be a neat opportunity and it sounds pretty cool,” she reflects.
After four years in this position which exposed her to many elements of the functioning of a modern airport, she applied for a newly created position-Airport Operations Specialist. This doubled the staff from one to two full-time employees running an airport that was only growing in size and aviation activity.
“I worked my way up from a part-time person to cleaning the toilets and maintaining the airfield. We kind of created things as we went and as the airport got busier we kept adding positions and I moved up the airport ranks,” Howland recalls.
After another four years of groundwork in all things aviation, Howland was promoted to the position that she holds today- running an ever-growing and dynamic little airport in a region known for its spectacular beauty.
“With an airport of this size, you are not just the Airport Director, you end up wearing a lot of hats and you learn to adapt as you go,” Howland summarizes.
Operational upgrades on the airport flight path
As Howland’s responsibilities have grown, so has the airport she runs. Expanding airport personnel from just one full-time employee to what is now six full-time positions with a need for more to be hired, Canyonlands Regional Airport is certainly taking off to new operational heights. As with any safe and evolving airport, the need for upgrades is always present.
When asked about what some of those operational upgrades may entail, Howland was quick to answer.
“Canyonlands Regional Airport is a certificated 139 Airport with a great GA side of things,” Howland describes.
“We have Skywest Airlines operating under Delta and United with a Delta flight to Salt Lake City and United Flight to Denver which currently operate daily flights and we also have a seasonal schedule.”
“We are an essential air service market here at Canyonlands so Skywest flies under the EAS format with the Department of Transportation (DOT).”
Things are shifting at the airport, however, Howland reveals when describing its commercial flight operations.
Fueled by the ongoing pilot shortage, some airlines, Skywest among them, are shifting to a charter model that requires only one fully certified pilot and one pilot with lesser qualifications.
As a result of Skywests transition to charter status, Howland outlines that the airport is gearing up for a period of transition and will be welcoming in another resident commercial service- Contour Airlines- expected to be fully operational at Canyonlands Regional by late Fall of this year.
“Fortunately Skywest has pledged to continue their service until the new airline is in place and we are very thankful that they have committed to extending their service to see us through the transition,” Howland relays.
With this operational change, other upgrades are also being thrown into the mix for Canyonland Regional.
“We are looking to try to attract some food services and something that has become very popular in Moab is food trucks.”
“So we have looked into some options of bringing some food trucks out here and we have one that is in the works right now and another that is very interested in this option,” she continues.
“The great thing about this option is that you don’t have to put in a ton of infrastructure.”
Location is a bit of an issue for the airport, Howland admits. “We are kind of in the middle of nowhere,” she hints. Indeed, the city of Moab is over 20 miles from the airport, and compounding its accessibility is that it is 1000 feet in elevation so the drive to the airport is uphill for most of the way.
This also becomes a liability when it boils down to the commercial prospects around the airport grounds due to limited existing infrastructure, she further outlines.
“The biggest thing about where we are is that it hinders that sort of development mainly due to the water source. There is no city water or sewer here and the airport has to pump its water from a well with all our sewage collected through a septic tank system.
“We don’t have the sewer and water supply to attract larger corporations.”
The airport does have a few significant aviation-related businesses including Skydive Moab, Canyonlands Ballooning, and Red Tail Air which is the airport’s FBO and operators of daily scenic flights. Also providing a bird’s eye view of the famously beautiful region around the airport are Pinnacle Helicopter and Moab Heli X, both also based at the airport.
The airport will be applying for Airport Improvement Funds from the FAA for anticipated capital improvements
“The first project we have coming up is removing and replacing the Alpha One Connector to eliminate a displaced threshold and the FAA is suggesting we make this our top upgrade.”
“Design for this will be in 2023 with construction possibly starting in 202 and possibly through into 2024 depending on bids and when the contractors can start,” she determines.
“Then we are desperately in need of more ramp space. There are many weekends when our ramp is full and we have to sometimes turn folks away for staying overnight at least,” Howland adds.
“This is the biggest as far as the price tag goes and we will be looking for discretionary FAA money for this,” Howland elaborates. “With that section of ramp space we will be putting in concrete and the space will be dual purpose and be set up as typical tie downs but with removable chains with the option of parking jets on it.”
The airport is also looking to pave some of its existing parking lots that are currently gravel. Howland also points out that they are always looking to add additional hangar space as well which will be easier to implement when the Canyonlands Regional has a new planned taxi lane which represents the third largest anticipated operational upgrade to their current facilities.
“The taxilane will connect both of our GA ramps in a loop.”
Arguably the largest project in the pipeline for the airport is the news coming directly from their FBO, Red Tail Air, that will result in the construction of a brand new FBO building for the airport’s GA traffic coming through.
“We gave our FBO a 30-year agreement and with that they have pledged to invest in the airport,” Howland enthuses.
“We are excited about the new FBO building that will provide amenities for pilots and users that will give them more of an FBO feel complete with resting areas for pilots and showers and a commercial kitchen and office for the pilots and their staff.”
Future flight direction
As flights continue to take off and land at Canyonlands Regional, Howland draws attention to the sheer beauty of the lands that greet each incoming flight.
“When you land you are witnessing all the canyons in the gullies and the red rock as well as the washes that I think are amazing to see from up above.”
“It is just this endless maze of washes where there is a desert that you see below you and you do not expect for there to be so much water, but the water has formed this magnificent landscape out here.”
The landscape is also changing for the gateway airport that greets visitors to this special part of the world.
“We are establishing a new normal. We had Skywest in here for three years and now we have to bring in a new airline and establish a new market,” she explains.
“So my highest priority right now is getting the new airline established which I believe is going to do very well.”
Moving forward, Howland points out, the airport will continue its work on the ramp extension, taxi lanes, and hangers, but will be focused first and foremost on providing a stunning gateway for its customers.
“We are very attractive as a general aviation airport and my goal is also to find a balance with a lot of projects on our commercial airline side,” she concludes.
AT A GLANCE
Canyonlands Regional Airport
What: a dual-use airport hosting both commercial and GA aviation traffic focused on providing top-tier services for its customer base
Where: 20 miles from Moab, Utah
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