Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group

Angela Padalecki - Grand Junction Regional Airport - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group

November 16, 2022 Angela Padalecki Season 2 Episode 10
Angela Padalecki - Grand Junction Regional Airport - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group
Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
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Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
Angela Padalecki - Grand Junction Regional Airport - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group
Nov 16, 2022 Season 2 Episode 10
Angela Padalecki

Everyone is a bit fascinated with flying, whether you've never flown or you've flown a thousand times. Get an inside look at how an airport and the airline industry is run with Christi's interview with Angela Padelecki, the Executive Director of the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Angela's quiet confidence and leadership will make you want to book your next trip today!

 

Show Notes Transcript

Everyone is a bit fascinated with flying, whether you've never flown or you've flown a thousand times. Get an inside look at how an airport and the airline industry is run with Christi's interview with Angela Padelecki, the Executive Director of the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Angela's quiet confidence and leadership will make you want to book your next trip today!

 

Speaker 1:

The Full Circle podcast, compelling interviews and incredible tales from Colorado's Western Slope, from the mountains to the desert. Christie Reese and her team here from the Movers, Shakers, and characters of the Grand Valley and surrounding mountain towns that make the Western slope the place we all love. You'll learn, you'll laugh, you'll love with the full circle. Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Full Circle Podcast. I'm your host, Christie Reese, and we're here today with a wonderful guest, Angela Padalecki, the executive director of the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Airport. Welcome, Angela.

Speaker 2:

Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Really excited to talk about your role and what's going on in the airline industry and Grand Junction specifically, because I think there's so much potential here. And, uh, the pandemic kind of threw a wrench in things, didn't it?

Speaker 2:

Yes. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

<laugh> for everybody, not just us. Um, but I'd like to start with a little background on you. So tell us, um, a little bit about your education background. I know you've got some legal background and some aviation industry backgrounds, or is it legal or finance? Yeah, finance. I was reading about that today, so, um, and how you got to Grand Junction.

Speaker 2:

Sure. So, um, this is actually my second stint in Grand Junction. I came to then Mesa State College my freshman year of college because for a minute I thought I wanted to be a nurse quickly in anatomy and physiology. I realized I didn't wanna be a nurse<laugh>. Um, so I ended up going to school at Codo State University. That's near where I'm from. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. Um, and then from, and I studied economics. And from there, um, I continued to work in economics. I, um, earned a master's degree in economics from the University of Colorado, Denver when I worked for the Federal Reserve, and really spent the first 10 years or so of my career in economics and finance, um, moved to Washington, DC and worked for the Department of Commerce.

Speaker 1:

Wow. How'd that

Speaker 2:

Feel? It was really fun. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Excited.

Speaker 2:

It's a great place to be for a little while. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. Um, I would say it feels like the opposite of Grand Junction<laugh>. It's very transient nature. No one intends to stay there, so it just, the culture there is a unique one. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. Um, but it was really fun to experience, especially when I was young. And then, um, my first job in aviation was at Denver International Airport about 10 years ago, and I just fell in love with it. We have a joke that once you get jet fuel in your veins, you don't get it out<laugh> and, um, just aviation, it's full of puzzles. And from an economic perspective, it's a huge economic puzzle, and that really drives a lot of what happens and why it happens. Um, so I, I joke that it's an economic puzzle and a physics puzzle. Um, the physics puzzle feels like magic to me, but I love the economic side of it and what it means for communities.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And so, do you love to fly?

Speaker 2:

I do. Yeah. Yeah. But I, I appreciate just the magic, you know, as Louis CK and others have said, just the magic of flying through the air like a bird. Right. I mean, um, going from New York to LA and less than five hours a trip, they used to take people their whole lives. I grew up playing Oregon Trail, so that's what it makes me think of. You know, you arrive with a different group than you left with Right. But now you can just sit in a chair, you know, And, and for me, I can even work while I'm doing it, and it's wonderful.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. So, um, and you've been with the, the airport here since 2018, correct? Yep.

Speaker 2:

So almost five years now. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>.

Speaker 1:

And, um, were they doing, uh, a national search for an executive director here? And you found out about it and applied. How did, how did you find out about the job?

Speaker 2:

Well, I had a colleague at Denver. Um, so to answer your question, yesterday did a national search, and there are only a couple of big recruiting firms within aviation. And so, um, those who have been in the industry a long time tend to be really plugged into that. I wasn't necessarily plugged into that, but I had a friend at Denver say, Hey, you should go apply to run the Grand Junction Airport. You'd be great at it, You'd love it. Um, and I wasn't looking to leave. I had a really cool job at Denver International. I oversaw airline affairs, and so my team manages the whole airline business for the airport, did all the property management for over 2 million square feet of property. Just a really cool job in a large airport. Very few people get to involve, be involved in a lot of stuff because you just have to divide and conquer mm-hmm.<affirmative>. So our team was one of the only ones that really got to be involved in everything. Yeah. So I wasn't looking to leave, but ultimately, um, it was an opportunity that I just couldn't pass up, and it felt like such a perfect fit for our family and for me personally at the airport with what the board was looking for.

Speaker 1:

That's awesome. Well, we're so glad to have you here. Um, talk about some of the challenges that are, um, as a result of the pandemic. I mean, obviously, uh, airline travel almost came to a complete standstill for a while, and now people are wanting to travel again, and it's, there's almost not enough supply, right? So it's, it's gotta be super challenging for everyone in the airline industry. Talk about the specific challenges that you see, um, nationwide, and then we'll focus in on a little bit on Grand Junction.

Speaker 2:

Sure. So you're absolutely right, Kristy. I mean, um, people just stopped flying, and unlike past shocks, um, nine 11 in particular, people just stopped flying for a few days, right. And then we slowly got the machine going again, and people came back to flying in the pandemic. People completely stopped flying for months. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. So what we saw was the airlines burning through, you know, the large airlines burning through over a hundred million dollars in cash per day. And so, even though you had programs like Cares Act coming out and, um, providing some relief to them, it was only a little bit of relief compared to what they were facing. So what you saw is them act like, um, responsible private businesses, frankly, and, you know, trying to re remain open. So they offered pretty lucrative, um, early separation packages for their employees, many of whom took advantage of it, including pilots, um, in our country, was already facing a looming pilot shortage that we were trying to get in front of. Um, and frankly, no one knew how long this was going to last. Right. I mean, people weren't applying at all. Yeah. Um, so again, at that national level, and so they made these decisions then, you know, within a year people really wanted to get back to flying for leisure purposes in particular. And as quickly as they rationed things down, it wasn't as easy to ramp things up. So that pilot problem in particular, because so many pilots left, there's a huge barrier to entry when it comes to being a pilot. So,

Speaker 1:

Well, and, and there should be, right? Yes. We all want our pilots to be well trained and experienced.

Speaker 2:

Exactly. So it takes 1500 hours, um, of flying, which you think about average full-time employee works 2000 hours a year, so 15 hour, a hundred hours in a cockpit before you can start, um, flying with an experienced pilot on regional aircraft. And so that's really the starting point. And so it's just, um, it's taken a lot of time and we're not there yet in getting that pilot supply pool back. So the airlines are eager to, um, cont continue to grow and recover to their pre pandemic levels. Um, you know, they have aircraft on order, they're getting aircraft deliveries. And ultimately aviation is a business that really is quite simple when, when it comes down to it, airlines make money with these very expensive assets by putting them to use as much as they can. And so right now they're not able to put them as to use as much as there is demand for. So we're getting close, but I think we're still about a year out from getting back to those pre pandemic levels on a national level.

Speaker 1:

Wow. And on the regional level, um, talk about Colorado and, and vis-a-vis Grand Junction and how we fit into the different, uh, hubs in Colorado.

Speaker 2:

Sure. So, um, I think we're in a really unique position that comes to our perspective on what aviation has looked like in the last five years. So, Grand Junction's obviously the biggest city between Salt Lake City and Denver. And while we're, um, a thriving and growing destination for leisure travelers, we're also a, a pretty prominent business, um, travel center for regional airport mm-hmm.<affirmative>. And so that serves us well because you think about it, we're just, we're well diversified in our travel mix. We're surrounded by destinations that don't have that, um, that business travel component and that have just surged and demand in the pandemic. So, in particular, places like Aspen, places like Telluride have just grown so much faster than anyone anticipated as

Speaker 1:

Travel. Is there air needs, you

Speaker 2:

Mean? Yeah, so just the, the demand to go to those places, I would say. And then the corresponding, um, air service that's offered. So for, for some of the most premium travelers who are now substituting away from a trip from, you know, maybe they live in New York and rather than going to Europe, they're gonna go to Telluride instead maybe a few times a year. You know, that those kinds of changes in passenger behavior, something that the airlines really take note of and pay attention to. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. So, um, we've certainly seen that and they're just growing as destinations, but overall, the Western slope and the demand of travel to and from here has grown tremendously in the last five years. And we are certainly part of that. We'll continue to be part of that. But, um, I think given the, the dominance of leisure travel to, in particular the Aspen Airport and then Telluride via the Montrose Airport, um, is something that in our community, it's easy to look and say, Wait, why them and not us. And, and the difference is just, um, in that leisure travel demand and that, that it is such a dominant force in those communities.

Speaker 1:

Well, and a lot of high net worth individuals going into those communities too. I mean, we all know Aspen and Telluride attracts, um, can attract a high net worth clientele.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. And that's where you think about it. Um, for those travelers who are buying very expensive international business class, maybe in first class tickets, typically those are really valuable customers and individuals to the airlines. So they pay special attention to where they want to go. The last thing that an airline wants is for one of their loyal and valuable customers like that to have to fly their competitor to go where they want to, to go on vacation, because that opens up the possibility that they can switch their loyalty. Mm-hmm.

Speaker 1:

<affirmative>. Interesting. And what about Moab? They have a little airport, but they certainly see a lot of tourism and, and, uh, growing demand out there. Is that a factor in our airport?

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. So we are the primary airport to get to Moab, despite them having an airport. I say that because their airport, um, the service there is really limited. They are a small enough community. They actually qualify for the Central Air Service, um, program, which is a federal program where the federal government will, um, they put out a solicitation and then ultimately contract with an airline to provide a minimum level of service to a community. It's intended to ensure small communities throughout the US still have access to air service. So that really drives the air service you see there. Certainly the demand for the National Park does as well, but it's so limited. Their air service is so limited because our airport is close enough to really, really serve the Moab area well mm-hmm.<affirmative>. And so we see on average about 50 people per day each way going to and from Moab, but traveling through our

Speaker 1:

Airport. Cause when do they have one flight a day to Denver or something like that?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it depends. Sometimes they have one flight to Denver, sometimes they also have a flight to Salt Lake City. Um, it just depends on the time of year. During their peak season, they tend to have about two flights a day. Mm-hmm.

Speaker 1:

<affirmative>, so before the pandemic, um, really optimistic about the growth of, uh, the Grand Junction Regional Airport. And, and before we get to that, it's no longer Walker Field, Right? You still see it sometimes. I don't know when I'm making reservations, it still says in a lot of the aggregators and things like that Walker Field, but it's not officially Walker Field anymore, is it?

Speaker 2:

Correct. So that was changed, um, back in the, um, earlier two thousands. The name was changed from Walker Field Airport to Grand Junction Regional Airport. During that period of time, the FAA was really encouraging airports to, um, focus their names on, um, to help passengers understand where they were, um, geographically located. And so it's my understanding that's why the change was made in talking to some passport members.

Speaker 1:

Pretty smart. I mean, who knows? Walker Field, right?

Speaker 2:

Yeah.<laugh>. And we still, I mean, Walter Walker is known for really, um, being a huge proponent for aviation air service, and really the airport. And so he's still featured somewhat, um, at the airport. The terminal is named after him, and we're on Walker Field Drive. Mm-hmm.

Speaker 1:

<affirmative>. So, um, back before the pandemic, lots of changes happening. And, uh, I think lots of optimism. Uh, and maybe changing the name was one thing to, you know, give us a little more prominence, but also trying to get some of that business, uh, from the mountain communities to come here. It's, I think, so much a better choice to fly into Grand Junction if you wanna go skiing than it is to Denver. Um, obviously we don't have the same number of flights going into Grand Junction, but, um, talk about what was happening pre pandemic and what you saw as, um, the best characteristics of our airport and how you were gonna try to, um, capitalize on those.

Speaker 2:

Um, great question. So reliability has been and will continue to be, I think our superpower. So because we are so close to the mountains and in the winter to mountain skiing, um, but we have such favorable weather here, and then given the size of our population versus Denver, and we all know what it feels like, um, you know, driving east from our community into the mountains versus driving west from Denver, um, that, that is really a point of strength. Um, so pre pandemic, the strategy was really twofold when it came to visitors. It was increasing the awareness and working with the airlines to help increase the awareness that we were a great, um, we're destination surrounded by destinations. So we're a great point for them to launch from on their trip and, um, getting their lines to help a little bit, um, and educating their passengers that way. And we still continue to focus on that. And when it comes to really, um, I don't know, those ambitious goals, like someday having nonstop service to New York, that's something that, um, those are the type of goals that can only be achieved if the Western Slope all works together, that's a fish that's so big that we would need to work together to have that service consistently. You see a little bit of weekend only service, um, to New York, um, down in Montrose and things like that. But we're talking more consistent and daily and closer to year round service. So working together on the Western slope, because none of us want our visitors to drive to Denver. Now, the other part of that problem is getting residents to stop driving to Denver. Yeah. Because for a lot of visitors, they look on a map and they're like, Denver, well, might be less expensive. They have the lowest fares of any airport in the country, um, with three hubbing carriers there. Just keeps the prices really low. Um, but you look at on a map at Denver and you're like, Wait, but I'm gonna have to drive over all the mountains to get there. I think I'd rather like skip that part, and I think I'll just fly in closer and pay a little more. Whereas our, our residents feel more confident. Typically now in the pandemic, we were able to really reduce the amount of, of leakage that we saw the passengers from the Western slope who were driving to Denver, um, to fly out. Now. I think that that was a whole bunch of factors that factored into that. But right now, so year ending Q2 2022, we saw less than 5% of Mesa County travelers drive to Denver. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. Um, so that's Yearend Q2 2022, um, that same period, um, year ending Q2 2019, we saw almost 50%. So we've made a huge improvement in that.

Speaker 1:

And what do you think the factors are that contribute to that change?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so I think it's a list of factors. You know, I think one is in the pandemic, um, people, they really reverted back to flying more locally. And when you haven't had that experience in a while and then you have it, you just realize how nice it is. Mm-hmm.<affirmative> to be able to go to a small airport travel is more simple. It's wonderful, it's more fun. And so I think that that does help hook them a little bit. Um, the fair gap between Grand Junction and Denver is lower than it's been historically. Um, their fares are still lower, but not by as much as they were. And then, um, I think the issues along I 70 have only gotten worse. In particular, the mud slides and just the lack of reliability going through Glenwood Canyon, No longer is it, Oh, I hope there's not a crash at the tunnel. I hope traffic isn't really bad, um, down by Georgetown. I hope that in Denver it's not bad. It's all of those things. And so I think it's a combination of those factors. Plus we're connected into pretty good banks, um, at the hubs that we connect into. And so you can travel pretty efficiently. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Um, so unfortunately we lost Delta, which was flying to Salt Lake and Frontier, which had, which is a low cost carrier that was attempting to come back to the Grand Junction market. Right. They had been here before. And, um, tell us what you think is gonna happen with those two airlines and how is the Grand Junction Regional Airport looking to expand in the future? I know there's been talk of a West coast route, um, maybe Chicago, Can you speak to those?

Speaker 2:

Sure. So we'll start with Delta, because I think that is just the top priority. And the airport's in alignment with the Grand Junction Regional Air Service Alliance who governs the lodging tax funds, as you know, um, being on that board, um, the Delta service and that termination of service was a complete shock. So in aviation, things feel a little upside down when the scarce isn't money because the whole system's built around that. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. So right now, the Scarceness resource is pilots, and we talked about that a little bit earlier, but that means that airlines are having to make decisions in a way that doesn't add up on paper to a lot of people. And sometimes it, it doesn't add up even within the industry. Like why would that happen? But ultimately, strategically, every airline has had to make hard decisions about routes that are profitable that they had to cut out because they just couldn't fly them all. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>, um, I think last, last January, um, everyone saw on the news how, you know, 2000 cancellations a day, 3000 cancellations a day. That's a nightmare for the airlines. They wanna have, they wanna be flying schedules that they can actually complete, so they had to shrink. Um, so that's, that's really how we got there, right. Is ultimately Colorado. When you look to Delta Airlines, Colorado just strategically wasn't as important as some other locations. So they abandoned flying out of all airports in Colorado, with the exception of Denver, Colorado Springs, and then limited flying to the ski resorts mm-hmm.<affirmative> in the winter. So we have ever since been working on getting that service restored because the pilot problem is a relatively short term problem. It will get solved. Mm-hmm.<affirmative> and that route was profitable. I mean, the, the flights were on average more than 90% full. It was a pro, they were profitable, they had added additional service. So in 2021, they flew more than they flew in 2019 because the flights were so full. And so it's really just working with the airlines. It was a unique relationship too. So SkyWest Airlines is the primary regional airline. It's by far the largest regional airline. They do most the regional flying for the major airlines, United American, Delta, and Alaska. So that route was actually, um, it was sold as a Delta Airlines flight, but it was, it was really, um, managed by SkyWest Airlines in a more direct way than most flights. So we've been continuing to work with both SkyWest and Delta to figure out how we can get, get that service back. It really left a twofold hole. There's, it's important, we have that direct connectivity to Salt Lake, but that Salt Lake City hub for Delta Airlines and Delta's, the only hubbing carrier there, provides tremendous connectivity into the West. And that's where we are really, really missing that connectivity. It shows up in our numbers, um, hear about it in the community, and we know it's painful. It's service that the community has grown to rely on and expect, and no one expected it to go away. So we really hope that it'll be back next year, but we have been working, will continue to work to get it back as soon as possible.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. And what do you think about Frontier?

Speaker 2:

I think Frontier, it's a very different situation. So you mentioned they had been here before and that's true. So in the two thousands, um, Frontier lines, um, and well, the regional arm of them called Lynx was here for just a short while. That was, um, almost a different company than the Frontier Lines. You see today they were a low cost carrier. Now they're an ultra low cost carrier. So like a legiant, they charge, they break down the cost of your ticket. There's a lot of seats on those airplanes. Um, and they really offer a value product that was a really good fit, especially in the pandemic because the leisure travel demand had recovered such high levels. And so, um, it was great for the residents. Grand Injunction was really good for people who wanted to visit the region, um, for a low far because that is really limited when we talk about the service. The other airports in the region have, none of them have ultra low cost carrier service. We're the only regional airport with ultra low cost carrier service in this area. So the service performed relatively well last year. And then when we started having the mudslides on I 70, it performed exceptionally well because, um, that service really, um, this is where they differ from Allegiant because they'll, they facilitate connections at their hub in Denver. So they actually had a fair amount of connecting activity coming through there too. Um, but when the I 70 issues started, we started to see just really strong demand between the two communities and on those cheap fairs. So that worked out great last year. Fast forward to this year and the demand just wasn't there. The average load factors were about 30%. For an ultra low cost carrier, they really need the planes to be 70 or 80% full in order for it to make sense for them because they're not charging very much for each ticket.

Speaker 1:

Right. So do you feel like, you know, when that pilot, pilot shortage gets fixed and, and we get back to a little bit more normal numbers flying overall in this country, you think Frontier is an option for us again here?

Speaker 2:

I think they could be for sure. So again, you know, I think we're by far the best access point for the region, especially for ultra low cost carriers. Um, their planes are large. We're the only towered airport, um, in this area, and that's important, the air traffic control tower. Um, and ultimately, um, we have more of a price sensitive travel base. You can imagine like an Aspen, the average Aspen traveler isn't very price sensitive. So an ultra low cost carrier, that's not the market they're gonna go after. But for us, you know, something we talk to Frontier about, for example, is how affordable our hotels are. That's important to their customers is they're planning a vacation. I mean, we, um, we would joke that this is the Colorado vacation their passengers are dreaming of and can afford. Yeah. And so I really hope they'll be back. Um, the ultra low cost carriers are doing a lot of different stuff right now. You hear about spirit merging with Jet Blue. Um, but Frontier was actually looking to acquire spirit until just a couple of months ago. So we'll just continue to see a lot of movement and innovation on that side. That's the newest side of aviation. Um, but I think that'll quickly be followed by, um, electric aircraft and what those manufacturers do and what that could mean. And it could be really disruptive. Cause there's so much, there's so much in um, development right now and in testing that truly by 2030 we could have quite, um, a robust electric aircraft fleet as part of the airline mixes, which really changes the economics of it because there's small airplanes. You don't have to have, they don't have to be full, um, because they're profitable with only a few seats on there. All of a sudden for communities like ours that could really open a lot up, a lot of nonstop destinations and something

Speaker 1:

I haven't thought about

Speaker 2:

That at the airport, we're being planful of because I know the whole community is planful about, um, electric cars. Make sure there's charging stations. Just like if you have a Tesla, you wanna be able to charge it to 80%, um, in 18 minutes. That's what you want on aircraft too, but it requires a lot more power<laugh>, so.

Speaker 1:

Wow. Interesting. Um, so Montrose has service from Southwest. Correct. Um, and, and they're a low cost carrier. And I'm sure there are people that wonder why can't we, you know, the prices there are a little bit cheaper it seems like, on the, on those flights, but they're being subsidized from the Telluride Ski Corp. Is that right?

Speaker 2:

So none of it is public, so I can't completely confirm what exactly is happening. But the Telluride Resort has, and that, and the Telluride community, um, along with Montrose have worked together for years now to really build an air service base and grow and expand air service. So it's very similar to what Grand Junction is doing with the lodging tax. They're just years and years ahead of us. Um, so when it comes to the Southwest service, for example, um, to help get Southwest across the finish line to say yes and come in there, they were able to just remove some of the risk, Excuse me. So whether, um, it's through a minimum revenue guarantee, that's what some airlines prefer. So they truly want the community to be able to guarantee they'll earn a certain amount of revenue and pay them if they don't, um, to just actually fronting the cost for some of the equipment that's required to start up a new station. It's very expensive to start a new station. And so certainly they've been working together. Now Southwest, um, you, you mentioned they're a low cost carrier and that is absolutely what they will say and that is the category they used to be in. But within our industry, we really put them in the category of the other legacy and hubbing carriers because of the way they behave now. And when you look at their fares, they're comparable to those other carriers as well. Um, now I think we, we also joke about how they're great at telling their passengers that they're a low cost carrier and then their tickets you have to book through their website. So it's kind of, um, it's a little, it's brilliant, right? That they've trained their passengers to stop shopping for tickets. Once they hook them from a loyalty perspective, they're not price shopping because it's not right in front of them. They have to go to,

Speaker 1:

They're not comparing Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Speaker 2:

<affirmative>. Exactly. So, um, but the fairs are lower. Part of it is supply, though. It's not just southwest, Southwest going in there, provokes a competitive response in the other lines. That's what we've seen. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>, certainly the fairs, um, when you're starting a new market are going to be low. And so that's really, those two factors have put down pressure on fairs. But when you look, it's really only during ski season that we see average FARs lower than ours. Otherwise they're really comparable.

Speaker 1:

Okay. Um, well let's talk about the bright spots in our air service, which is, um, fantastic service to Dallas, Phoenix, and Denver. Right. On a daily basis. And what kind of, um, capacities are you seeing these days?

Speaker 2:

So for American and United, they're back to pre pandemic levels of seats in the market. Now it shows up in a couple different ways. So in the case of American, they have as many or more flights and seats as they did pre pandemics. So they're flying three times per day to Dallas, three times per day to Phoenix. Dallas is their headquarters. That is their hub, their largest hub. Dallas was often the largest airport in the world during the pandemic. Um, kind of taking that title from Atlanta. Um, and that Dallas hub has incredible connectivity given its location. Um, you look at Phoenix, Phoenix is a little bit different. Um, they are a western hub, much like the Salt Lake City hub is for Delta. They're a western focused hub with incredible connectivity to Leisure Mexico, to um, California and many of our top destinations. So those two airports are such good fits because in addition to the connectivity, those destinations are some of our top destinations as well. And that's when things work out best is when you're connected into a hub where there's lots of people going to and from those locations and to those destinations they connect to. So, um, they are are continuing to grow. Ultimately aviation's a little bit cutthroat Delta leaving our market created instant opportunity for United and American, an opportunity they've been eager to take advantage of and trying to, despite cuts elsewhere. So they're up in our market while being down by more than 10% nationwide, for example, United Similar, but they're, um, in terms of them being up going to Denver, but they've done it in a different way. They brought in mainline aircraft, which are large aircraft, um, with anywhere from 120 to 160 seats. Um, those aircraft are flying typically in the morning and at night, which is really convenient because that's when we're busiest. Mm-hmm.<affirmative> also, if schedules get messed up during the day, it's so nice to have a big plane coming in at night to to scoop everyone up and take'em home. So, um, they intend to keep that forever. They have, um, I met with them last week at their headquarters. They have an extra, another a hundred, um, 7 37 max aircraft coming, um, next year. They need to have places to put them. So markets like ours are a perfect fit, see?

Speaker 1:

Yes.

Speaker 2:

Yes. Exactly. More. Well, it's always nice when you can grow with any type of aircraft. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>.

Speaker 1:

And another advantage that we have here in Grand Junction is the size of our runways. Right. Compared to the mountain towns. Um, Yes. And, and there's stuff going on right now with runways. Talk about the capital projects that are going on.

Speaker 2:

Yes. So we have a 10,500 foot runway, 150 feet wide. Um, Air Force one can land here. The community knows that because it has. Mm-hmm. Um, but you contrast that a little bit. Um, with Aspen being the other extreme, there's only one aircraft flown by the major airlines that can go in there. A CRJ 700. That's it. Arguably that's why the airlines still fly them<laugh>. They don't love that aircraft anymore, but it's the only one that can go in there. Wow. Um, which creates opportunity for us to make sure that that Aspen community is served through our airport and something we've taught. We work with Aspen on and the airlines, but, um, in order for us to continue to be able to serve all of that, we have to make sure that we have a reliable runway. Our runways just getting older. And so it, it, um, is due, have full rehab soon, but ultimately that would close the airport for about a year if we just closed it and rehabbed it. Jackson, um, just did that in Wyoming. They closed the airport for like the entire mud season, the entire summer season to rehab just a portion of their runway that worked okay for them. But that doesn't work for a community like ours cuz again, we're a destination and a year round business hub. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. So the faa, we worked with them and they agreed to fund at 90%, um, a replacement runway. So we're building a new runway, 600 feet north. Um, it'll also shift about a thousand feet to the west. Um, just giving it adequate separation from our secondary runway. That's more of a ga, general aviation runway. Um, that project with cost escalations now is close to 200 million. So, um, it's underway if you're out at the airport and you see, um, you see dirt movers out there just going back and forth. Whereas my two year old would say, you scoop it and you dump it and you scoop it and you dump it every day for years, that's what they're going to be doing. Cause they're moving four, 4 million yards of dirt. So it's enough dirt to fill the Pepsi Center of the Ballina, um, eight times. It's just an incredible amount of dirt shaving these hills, filling in embankment. We have a time lapse video set up so that, um, for the rest of time we can enjoy getting to watch just those hills shrink and, and the elevation increase off to the west. But it's, it's a huge project.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. And when that runway is finished, will they go ahead and rehab the current runways so that you have two full operating runways?

Speaker 2:

No, what they'll do, um, so runways are typically twice as wide as taxiways taxiways are, where airplanes, taxi or drive<laugh> basically, um, in a controlled space. And so they'll narrow that down because it's less pavement to maintain. It's really expensive to maintain pavement at the airport. You think about just how much weight is on each of those wheels. Um, just the depths, things like that. It's, it's very expensive. So that way we can trim it down. So what that means, um, if you look at an aerial view of the airport, all the buildings line up perfectly in a line. And it's not because, well, not just because we like things to be orderly, it's because there's what's called a building restriction line. So buildings must be at least 600 feet from the center line of the runway. With the runway shifting. It creates tremendous development opportunity at the airport once that new runway opens too. So, um, it'll be really fun. I mean that's where the next 10 years we're building a runway, but 10 years after that and for many decades after that, I think the name of the game will be development at the airport.

Speaker 1:

So how long does a runway last?

Speaker 2:

Um, it's expected to last about 50 years now. It does require maintenance, obviously. I mean, it's funny cuz I say that it needs to be fully rehabbed, but if you went out there, you'd be like, this is the nicest road in Grand Junction. And it is, but it's a runway. So it needs to always be the nicest road in products. No<laugh> it has, you want it to be perfect. I mean, we, we go out and we remove rubber from the runway, things like that. Just because, um, you want the runway to be the safest place to

Speaker 1:

Operate. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>. Yeah, absolutely. So, um, what is going on with the terminal building?

Speaker 2:

So the terminal, it's funny cuz so when I got here five years ago was we need a new terminal, We need that, that thing is, you know, fill in the blank, um, complaint about it. Um, including my favorite, We need a new terminal that's sexy. You know, I heard that. Um, so we really dug in to say, Hey, what is the status of the terminal? What do we need to do? Is it safe? Do we, we need to be planning to replace, replace it? Ultimately from a structural perspective, the conclusion was we do not need to replace it. You know, with limited investment, we were able to just really stabilize the movement that the building had experienced continuing to moderate, but just keep an eye on it. Um, and

Speaker 1:

Year was it built?

Speaker 2:

1982. So I don't know when roller bags became a thing, but it was after 1982 because no one would've put in that tile with the half inch grout,<laugh><laugh>. It's, so we did, um, we replaced all the flooring and, um, as a result changed the soundtrack of the terminal for the better. Um, it's no, no longer just the click, click, click. But, um, we really, we made improvements to life safety systems. Hvac, I couldn't believe the terminal had never had forced air cooling, so it was just evaporative cooling. Wow. So I,

Speaker 1:

With those high ceilings and

Speaker 2:

I just asked, I was like, Oh, so is the like unofficial like motto in July, like, you don't have to sweat, we'll sweat for you in the terminal. Like, it was just so hot in there,<laugh>. So it's been really nice to just elevate the, the passenger experience mm-hmm.<affirmative> and we've really focused on that while also making these life safety improvements. We have a long ways to go, we'll continue to need to make improvements. Um, like any building that's just gotten a little bit older, they're just, um, they're, there's stuff that's not that much fun, like replacing roofs and, you know, who

Speaker 1:

Wants to spend their money on roofs? Nobody,

Speaker 2:

No<laugh>. But within the building infrastructure law, there's quite a bit of money allocated to airports. So we continue to compete for, for that money too. To make improvements in the terminal. We need to replace the loading bridges. Those are older that connect to the airplanes. And then really, um, we just finished a big airport development plan. So basically a master plan update, um, but focusing on the areas, um, that foster development given, just given the, the need for that, um, and the lack of focus historically. Um, and so we have a good idea of what we need to, to expand most urgently. And that's where, you know, within the next five or 10 years, we'll need to be able to widen the security checkpoint. And we need to have, as airplanes keep getting bigger. Um, even the regional airplanes, you know, the 50 cedars are being decommissioned, not all of them, but eventually they'll all be decommissioned. And, um, the regional airplanes, a lot of'em are being replaced by those larger, um, narrow body aircraft I talked about. So the area where you sit waiting to board your, your flight, it needs to be a little bit bigger. Um, but none of it is here on fire urgent yet. We don't want to wait until we get there to replace it. We're expanding the public parking lot. Why? Because we never wanna run outta parking. We never want people having to drag their bags through mud to get to the, the terminal. We always wanna be in front of those problems, so

Speaker 1:

Well, and any business owner knows what a challenge it's been through the pandemic and anytime really dealing with supply and demand, making sure that you've got enough staff but you're not overstaffed and you know, you're budgeting correctly for the amount of people you have using your services. And the pandemic just<laugh> just ruined all of that, Right. Like how it's so hard to recover from that and, and try to anticipate, I mean obviously the airlines know there's a lot of demand, but trying to satisfy that and, and do it in a smart way, super challenging.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I'm really glad that, um, there are no positions on my staff where you have to have 15 hours of training on anything before you can start because that problem you're describing, it just feels, it feels so much harder in that environment. So.

Speaker 1:

Well, um, thank you for being here with us today, super informative and I, I love to fly and I'm really, um, excited about everything that's going on at the potential at the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Is there anything else you'd like to share with us about your job or our community and the airport?

Speaker 2:

Not really. I mean, what I'd really like to do is just thank the community for continuing to use the airport. I mean, all the time people ask me, Hey, what could, what can I do to help the airport or let me know if there's something I can do to help the airport? Nothing helps the airport like using the airport. And so

Speaker 1:

Fly Grand Junction,

Speaker 2:

<laugh> Aviation is a data driven industry. And so truly, you know, you, the airline tickets you buy are your vote on what you want to exist in the world. So the best thing we can do is, is try to use the airport, um, when we are, when we're flying because it gives us when we go to meet with airlines that that data to say, look at the demand here, look at this opportunity so that as we try to get back to those pre pandemic goals of nonstop service to San Francisco, things like that, um, we can demonstrate that that demand is still here.

Speaker 1:

All right. Okay, everybody, you heard it. Let's fly Grand Junction Regional Airport for all your needs. I don't wanna drive to Denver. Um, and, and I just wanna bypass that whole thing. So I've been using the airport a lot more, so I'm helping.

Speaker 2:

Oh, great. Thank you.<laugh>,

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for being with us here on the Full Circle podcast. Uh, I'm Christie Reese and this has been, um, Angela Padi with the Grand Junction Regional Airport. And we'll see you next time on the Full Circle podcast. Thanks. Thank you. Thanks for listening. This is Christie Reese signing out from the Full Circle Podcast.