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Marines to restore Catalina Island runwayMarines to restore Catalina Island runway

A project to make landings and takeoffs a little smoother at the challenging “Airport in the Sky” on an island off the California coast is scheduled to begin in January, with the U.S. Marine Corps hitting the beach to carry out the mission.

Repairing the Santa Catalina Island runway will provide an opportunity for military training that also benefits general aviation. AOPA file photo by David Tulis.

For visitors to Catalina Island, a popular recreational destination about 20 miles off the southern California coast, transportation options include an hourlong boat trip, a short helicopter ride, or a flight to the airport that sits at an elevation of 1,602 feet msl at the center of the island.

Much of the 22-mile-long island, and the airport, are under the auspices of the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy, a land trust founded in 1972. The airport was deeded to the group in 1975.

The conservancy and the state’s Transportation Department are committed to maintaining the airport to provide general aviation aircraft with access to the island, said Geoffrey Rusack, a member of the Catalina Island Conservancy Board of Directors and a Cessna Caravan pilot who has been landing on the 3,000-foot-long runway for 35 years.

Despite the “constant efforts” of an airport crew to patch the runway and remove debris, Rusack said, the surface’s deterioration has continued—adding new challenges to using a runway that was already demanding because of a steep slope, a raised middle that renders each runway end not visible from the other, and “numerous potholes and soft spots.”

Two years ago, discussions about upgrading the airport began with the military, and the idea of developing the project as a training exercise for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton emerged.

“They will train repairing a runway in a remote environment,” Rusack said, adding that about 100 Marines will live at the remote airport throughout the project. Use of the airport will be restricted during the operation.

Engineers were expected to inspect the site in November.

AOPA played a supporting role with the Catalina Island Conservancy during the discussions and was pleased with the outcome, said Melissa McCaffrey, AOPA’s Western Pacific region manager.

“This is a great story of the military and the aviation community working together for an equally beneficial outcome,” she said. “AOPA is gratified to see the military and the aviation community working together, and we look forward to seeing the completion of this project.”

Pilots considering a flight to Catalina Island’s Airport in the Sky and perhaps enjoying a meal at DC-3 Gifts & Grill can view this AOPA video that follows a flight that originated at Camarillo during AOPA’s 2017 fly-in from takeoff to touchdown at the Airport in the Sky.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, US Travel

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