Catalina airport closed to private planes as military rebuilds runway

CATALINA, Calif. (KABC) -- U.S. Marines and Navy Seabees have taken over the Airport in the Sky on Catalina Island, living on the grounds for three-and-a-half months.

They're not training for combat, but instead rebuilding the runway.

"This is a great opportunity for the Marines. We're used to working on expeditionary runways, filling potholes of that nature. We're creating a 3,000-foot-long runway, 60 feet wide, 5 inches deep. When you look at situations around the world like the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami that wiped out the runway, it's an opportunity for Marines to get better at flexing our humanitarian muscle," said Zachary Bodner, a Marine working on the Catalina runway project.

The project is also a huge win for the airport's aging runway.

The Airport in the Sky is an important part of Catalina's infrastructure, supporting the 4,000 full-time residents, 1 million visitors, and 2 million pounds of freight that pass through. The runway sees 14,000 takeoffs and landings a year.

"We found that they had a unique need. They needed to have practice and experience building a runway which they had not done since the '60s in a complete form and we had a need to rebuild our runway," said Tony Budrovich, the president and CEO of the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Budrovich says all of the island's mail and overnight deliveries pass through the airport. The new runway is expected to last up to 75 years.

"When the Marines got involved, we narrowed this project to a 3.5-month project. When we were talking to outside contractors we were talking a year so we're very proud of this relationship we have working with the Marines and Navy Seabees and the efficiency with which they can do work," said Budrovich.

While the project is underway, the runway is only open to commercial aircraft. Private aircraft will be able to land again on Catalina in April.
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