Bringing Back the Splendor of Catalina Island

Jill Weinlein

Cruising over to Catalina Island onboard the smooth Catalina Express, I immediately noticed the Catalina Island Company and Catalina Island Conservancy are investing millions of dollars to attract more affluent visitors. Exiting the ship, I boarded a Catalina Conservancy shuttle for a tour of Avalon before entering the interior of the island to enjoy lunch at the Airport in the Sky.

Besides building a new state of the art Catalina Island Museum, adding a newer 15,000 sq. ft. Mediterranean designed full Spa and Wellness facility, building a 23,000 Vons grocery store, and renovating some of the historic hotels, the Conservancy teamed up with some U.S. Marines to repair the Airport in the Sky runway.

With the help of ACE Clearwater Enterprises, the Torrance-based aerospace and power generation manufacturing company, donating $1.5 million towards the Airport in the Sky repair project, this new asset to the island will bring more affluent visitors. Tony Budrovich, Catalina Island Conservancy President and CEO launched a fundraising campaign last October for the repair project.

Kickoff began January 2019 with more than 100 Marines and sailors arriving at the island to work and live next to the runway. These men and women will work six days a week to replace the deteriorating 3,000-foot runway asphalt surface, with a smooth concrete one.

The Airport in the Sky opened in 1946, and the Catalina Island Conservancy took over the operation of the public airport in 1972. Not only does the airport serve the Island's businesses and 4,000 residents, but also approximately 3.5 million pounds of freight, medical and emergency supplies annually.  As the condition of the runway grew worse, developing pothole and loose gravel, the airplane landings declined. "The runway was so bumpy that some of the Marines thought it looked worse than runways in Afganistan and Iraq," said Conservancy Board member Mike Sullivan. 

The Catalina Island Conservancy works to protect, understand, renew and explore Catalina's plants, animals and ecosystem for residents and visitors to use and appreciate. This project was a necessary priority to start work on in 2019.

The partnership with the Conservancy, Marines and Navy is a win-win for everyone. "It's a unique opportunity for training the Marines to develop real-world construction skills, while serving the needs of a community," said Zachary Bodner 2nd Lieutenant Communications Strategy Officer. "It's a partnership with the Department of Defense's Innovative Readiness Training Program, which matches community needs with military training opportunities.

The main runway is closed to the public right now, but the other facilities remain open, including the airport's Nature Center and nearby hiking and biking trails. The airport restaurant, DC3 Grill is open daily serving the best bison burgers, grilled bison tacos, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies.

Depending on the weather and other factors, the airport runway is scheduled to open in late April. Board member Sullivan told me, "This new and smooth runway will attract small plane enthusiasts and large jets. Hopefully, it will double the number of landings from 60 to 120 a day. Landing on this unique mountain top runway is only $25."

To visit Catalina Island, go to To learn more about the Catalina Island Conservancy, go to

Jill Weinlein

U.S. Marines and Navy Sailors repair the Airport in the Sky runway.

Jill Weinlein

A partnership with the Catalina Island Conservancy and U.S. Marines and Seabees is part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program (IRT), which matches community needs with military training opportunities.

Jill Weinlein

Cruise from Long Beach to the Mediterranen looking Catalina Island in one hour.

Jill Weinlein

Los Angeles based Jill Weinlein covers travel, food and lifestyle destinations for multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Her areas of expertise include, luxury travel, culinary reviews, cruising and family travel destinations. Born in Los Angeles, Jill studied Communications and Theatre Arts at UCLA. She has a a Dine and Travel blog - and she writes a weekly restaur...(Read More)

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