It’s hard to believe it was over a year ago since my last visit to Salt Lake City Airport, when Dan McNichol and I chugged in courtesy of Mrs. Martin, his 1949 Hudson.
I do remember we made it into the airport parking garage, where I promptly had a bit of a nervous breakdown because the pressures from ENR, APWA and just being on the road for over two weeks in a jalopy with an initial stranger finally blew some internal gasket of my brain. Dan, no stranger to throwing stress-induced tantrums himself, was extremely supportive. He encouraged me to scream and bawl and let it all out before we prepared to meet the airport folks and the contracting team preparing to build the then-$1.8-billion redevelopment program—a joint venture of Holder Construction and Big-D.
Talking with construction folks and touring their project is wonderful therapy. It’s, pun intended, very constructive as well as inspiring to see the passion project officials have for their work. Even better, several of the guys, including Mike Williams, now with the airport; and Leon Nelson of the joint venture, greeted me with familiarity—I had interviewed them about a decade ago about Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson’s fifth runway project. Although it made me feel old, it also made me feel good.
Another year, another reunion with these guys, this time me (literally) flying solo to see the progress. The program has since expanded to $2.6 billion, but work is still mostly in the “enabling” mode—taking out existing roads and lots, putting in new ones, moving and demolishing various structures to make room for the building of new ones. A brief description is included in the Sept. 5 issue of ENR, along with reports on the Seattle and San Francisco stops of this Western leg of my airport infrastructure tour. Fuller descriptions of activities at these airports will be in my October cover story.
My visit to SLC also happened to mesh with a press conference and demo of DataComm, a new NextGen technology that allows air traffic controllers and pilots to communicate with each other instantly through a text-like system, rather than having to read back alphabet-soup codes to each other that indicate the pilot's planned flight route. We got to see the demo from both the air traffic control tower and a plane.
It became clear that I should really come back and visit Salt Lake City, Sea-Tac and SFO again, because construction is only just beginning in earnest on each of these airports’ newest redevelopment programs. Sea-Tac and SFO have a friendly rivalry going on to see whose airport can be the greenest and most socially conscious. The folks at both airports proudly showed off their electrified ground equipment and fleets, their quirky recycling stations and public information programs, their locally branded shops and services, their spa-like bathrooms, art exhibits and interactive play areas (in SFO’s Terminal 2, you can play a xylophone that mimics the song of a local bird).
I would go on to visit San Jose airport, LAX and Burbank airport. The overview of those airports’ activities and plans will appear in the Sept. 19 issue of ENR. Visiting six airports in eight days proved pretty damn exhausting. But even with the occasional flight delay, it still was a cakewalk compared to nearly a month in an old, if awesome, car.