Helicopters transporting U.S. Marines and Navy Seabees landed at the Airport in the Sky on California’s Catalina Island on Jan. 9 as a project to upgrade the airport’s runway shifted into high gear.
The military took on the repair project, intended to improve on continuing runway patch jobs, in a partnership with the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy, an arrangement AOPA encouraged. The repairs will proceed on a six-days-a-week schedule with forces rotating on and off the island.
“The partnership is part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program (IRT), which matches community needs with military training opportunities,” said the Catalina Island Conservancy in a news release.
The Airport in the Sky—its field elevation is 1,602 feet msl—is the only airport on the 22-mile-long island off the California coast. It receives islanders’ mail, packages, and an estimated 3.5 million pounds of freight, including the island’s medical and emergency supplies, the conservancy said.
“We were so pleased to welcome these amazing young men and women to the Island, and we appreciate their can-do spirit about tackling this task,” said Tony Budrovich, president of the Catalina Island Conservancy. “The airport was at risk of closure because of the condition of the runway. This innovative partnership with the Marines and Navy will ensure the airport can remain open another 75-100 years, while also providing a training opportunity to prepare the troops for deployment on islands and other remote locations to build or repair airports and other infrastructure,” he said.
I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton assigned 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to support the training opportunity. It selected Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 as the lead element. Naval Construction Group One, First Naval Construction Regiment, and Navy Mobility Construction Battalion personnel will provide quality control and medical support, the announcement said.
“The Seabees have a long history of building critical infrastructure and serving alongside the other armed services around the world, and the Catalina airport runway repair project will provide a great training opportunity to prepare Seabees for future missions,” said Lt. Saul Perez Ravelo of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps.