SALT LAKE CITY — Up, up and away! Utah's capital city now has a fully functioning new airport.
The first flight from Concourse B at Salt Lake City International Airport took off early Tuesday morning bound for Oakland, California, via Southwest Airlines departing just after 7 a.m.
Concourse B opened with 21 gates to be used by Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United. Last month, the majority of the facility — dubbed The New SLC — officially began operations with Delta Air Lines occupying 25 gates in Concourse A-west, including six international gates.
It is the culmination of years of planning, as well as the end of an era, officials said.
"It's a fine day. It's mixed emotions because we're saying goodbye to this really remarkable old airport, which served this community so well for so long, so many memories for the people of Salt Lake and Utah. On the other hand, we have this brand new state of the art airport," said Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. "Today is like icing on the cake. It's been six weeks since the successful opening of The New SLC and today we welcome all of our airline partners to their new home in Concourse B, which completes Phase I of the project,"
To commemorate the completion, the city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the inaugural flight departure at gate B17. As of midnight, aircraft stopped loading and unloading passengers in the former airport concourses C, F and G. All airlines serving the airport are now operating out of entirely new facilities, Wyatt added.
"We have terminated use of the old airport, which will soon be demolished in anticipation of the next phase of this airport," he said. "So very exciting. It's great to see real people here, masked up, social distancing, about to get on an airplane for the first time in this concourse."
Concourse B will include three new local restaurants and five new shops. More dining options and retail are expected to come online as passenger volume increases, he said.
In an homage to the old and new, a 990-foot long tunnel — originally built in 2004 — connects the A and B concourses. Passengers are treated to artwork representing the four seasons of Utah as they pass through the tunnel. Salt Lake City-based artist Traci O'Very Covey created images for summer and fall, while winter and spring images were painted by a Texas-based artist.
"I just thought about how wonderful it is to live in Utah and loved the four seasons. It was right up my alley because my artwork is always inspired by nature, and just what I call the grace and joy of everyday life, things that inspire me. I was just really thrilled and honored to be a part of this new airport," O'Very Covey said. "I think artwork in public spaces is just a wonderful way to uplift people's daily lives. That's what my intention is to offer something beautiful and of value to people, especially when people are rushing through an airport and they're hurried trying to get someplace. To come across something beautiful that's unexpected, that can just give them a boost, lift their spirits and offer them a moment of beautiful art."
Kaysville resident Victoria Bradshaw was among the first passengers to experience the new concourse. She said it should be an upgrade for travelers.
"It's exciting. I have friends that work here and it's been a long, long road, a long time coming. But it's exciting that it's finally done," she said. " I've flown out of this airport since I've lived here probably 20 times in the last two years. And it's a huge, huge improvement."
Steve Hardy of Salt Lake City was traveling for business and was surprised by the celebration when he arrived at the gate for his flight.
"I was just told that they were moving us from (concourse) F to B, and then we came over here," he said. "I enjoy traveling. The new airport is going to be great for Salt Lake City for Utah moving forward."
Construction on the $4.1 billion airport redevelopment project began in July 2014. The new facility offers state-of-the-art technology and amenities, including electronics plug-ins available at each seat in the gate areas, gates that employ an aircraft docking system to provide pilots active guidance for precise automated aircraft parking, as well as eight restrooms ensuring passengers are never more than 150 feet away from the next restroom facility, a news release stated.
With Phase I of the project complete, demolition is underway on the remaining structures of the old facility so crews can begin on the next phase. Phase II will include the build-out of Concourse A to the east and construction of a concrete section of a permanent tunnel to transport passengers between Concourses A and B.
That construction is scheduled for completion in late 2024, with the ability to add eight gates in a second phase, and 15 gates in a third phase, if future growth warrants, Wyatt said.
The new airport project was paid for by the airlines, without any local taxpayer funding. Steve Cisneros, managing director of airport affairs for Southwest Airlines, said the new facility will benefit carriers and travelers alike.
"This is a milestone for the community first, and for Bill Wyatt and his team at the airport that constructed this, especially during the middle of a pandemic, you have to celebrate something of this magnitude," he said. "For our employees that live and work here in Salt Lake, this is a new home for them. And this is an exciting new era for them that's going to last for generations.
"The traveling public is just going to probably just be swiveling their head back and forth as they look at the artwork, the illumination, the lights and just being able to spread out and just enjoy the amenities of this first-rate facility," he added.
For Chandler McClellan, construction manager for contractor Austin-Okland Joint Venture, the completion was somewhat bittersweet. A veteran in the construction business, he has led crews in the building of six other airport projects across the country. He said he will miss working on such an important project.
"The word I would use was kind of sad. All this excitement, all the synergy, the trials and tribulations, it's been hard. It's been tough. And now we're there, it's over. So in a way, I'm kind of sad," he said. "It takes a lot of teamwork. Sometimes you have to learn to give. Sometimes you have to make sure you get what you need. But in a word, it's about teamwork."
He said hundreds of people were involved in the construction of the facility and each person should be proud of the work they contributed. For himself, it has been the culmination of a lifelong fascination he's had with airports and aviation.
"As a kid, I have always loved airplanes. I love building and I love airplanes, so this is perfect for me," McClellan said. "I want people to come into these buildings and just see what we've done. I want them to feel the space. I want them to enjoy watching the aircraft."
"I just want people to really feel how airports function," he said. "It's a fascinating experience."