Airport director extols progress

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Angela Padalecki

Angela Padalecki is responsible for keeping a lot of things in the air, among them the airplanes and passengers that use the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

At the same time, the executive director of the airport has a lot of proverbial balls to keep in the air as well — renovations at the terminal, the construction of a new runway and plans to open a customs facility. That’s not to mention ongoing efforts to increase commercial air service.

It’s all part of achieving two overarching goals, Padalecki said, and that’s for people who use the airport to save time and travel better.

Nearly two years into her tenure, Padalecki said she’s pleased with the progress the airport board and staff has made. “We feel proud of the work we’re doing. We’re just really, really excited.”

Even as work in the terminal and on the runway proceed, the number of commercial flights and overall traffic have increased, she said.

Here’s another metric she’s tracks. For the second year in a row, Grand Junction Regional Airport ranks among the top 10 percent of airports worldwide for on-time departures and arrivals.

Since the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority board hired Padalecki, she’s been working in the midst of renovation projects, including work on a new primary runway.

The new runway will be constructed north of the existing runway and replace infrastructure that remains safe for now, but has nearly reached the end of its usefulness, Padalecki said.

As of right now, the work is scheduled for completion in 2026 and at $150 million will rank among the biggest projects in Grand Valley history, she said.

The bulk of the project will be covered by Federal Aviation Administration grants. Padalecki said the runway project will proceed as the airport receives grants to help fund the work.

Before construction begins on the runway, however, other work must be completed, she said. The latest phase of the project involved rerouting a portion of 27 1/4 Road where it runs past what will be the west end of the new runway. Additional fencing also must be installed around the perimeter of the aircraft operations area. A substantial amount of earth work also will be required.

Once the new runway is completed, the existing runway will serve as a taxiway, Padalecki said. Shifting the runway north will open additional room the airport for hangars, an expanded terminal and other facilities, she said.

Even as work proceeds on a new runway, renovations continue at the terminal, Padalecki said. That includes roof repairs; upgrades to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; new lighting; and new escalators. In addition, the third floor of the terminal was enclosed. New flooring will be installed next year, she said.

The interior of the terminal was repainted and new artwork installed, including a towering photograph of Independence Monument, the iconic monolith at the Colorado National Monument.

The work was designed to not only address deferred maintenance at the terminal, but also enhance the environment for passengers and the employees who work there, Padalecki said. “It’s breathed life into the existing terminal.”

There are also plans to open a Customers and Border Protection facility at the Grand Junction Regional Airport as part of efforts to establish a foreign trade zone. “We are really excited about that project,” Padalecki said.

A federal program allows for the establishment of secure areas that are considered outside of U.S. Customs territory for tariff purposes. Businesses are allowed to import goods without paying a duty until those goods leave the zone and enter U.S. commerce. When imported materials and components are used to make finished products, duties are assessed at what’s often a lower rate.

An application has been submitted to the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish a zone. Work also has proceeded on bringing a federal customs officer to the airport to work with businesses using the zone.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to increase commercial air service.

Allegiant added twice-weekly service between Grand Junction Regional Airport and the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The flights add to the year-around service Allegiant offers between Grand Junction and Las Vegas and seasonal service between Grand Junction and Los Angeles.

United Airlines added a weekly seasonal flight between Grand Junction and Chicago in addition to its daily service to Denver.

Commercial air service also connects Grand Junction with Dallas and Salt Lake City as well as the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix.

A portion of revenue from an increase in the lodging tax assessed on hotel and motel stays in Grand Junction goes to support additional direct flights to and from the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

Padalecki said there’s a possibility service to Chicago could be expanded to daily flights. There’s also a possibility for new service to San Francisco, which would connect Grand Junction to another West Coast hub and flights to Asia.

Meanwhile, traffic on existing flights continues to increase, she said.

Through the end of July, 151,564 enplanements — that is, passengers boarding commercial flights — were reported at the airport for 2019. That’s a 13.2 percent increase over the same span in 2018.

Airlines have not only added more flights, but also use larger aircraft that seat more passengers, Padalecki said.

While the airport has no control over the fares airlines charge, Padalecki said those fares are coming down. Moreover,  the gap had narrowed between fares charged for flights out of Grand Junction and flights out of Denver.

Accessibility and affordability are two important factors in improving air service, she said.

So is on-time performance, she said, and the Grand Junction Regional Airport ranks among the top 10 percent of airports worldwide according to the latest assessment by Official Aviation Guide, an air travel intelligence company. The Grand Junction Regional Airport was one of only three airports in the continental United States to receive five-star ratings.

Grand Junction Regional Airport ranked eighth among airports in North America in an assessment of how quickly aircraft are turned around following a late arrival to make an on-time departure.