Flying High at the Airport by MBomis
In 1968, the Salt Lake Municipal Airport was renamed the “Salt Lake City International Airport.” The new name was symbolic of its ever-expanding scope.
Just as the Chamber helped give birth to Salt Lake’s first cinder airfield, it continued to nurture its growth to maturity in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. For example, from 1975 to 1980 the airport expanded to 7,500 acres. In 1978, the airport’s annual payroll was $25 million.
The airport’s growth demanded new facilities and the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce was at the forefront of finding funds for them. For example, the Chamber supported a successful 1979 bond election that provided $42 million to upgrade the airport. The bond help modernize the main terminal building to allow Jetway connections directly from the concourse to planes. Previously, passengers had to brave the outside weather to board planes. It also connected the main terminal to the Western Airlines terminal, built in 1978, and improved roads including a connection to Interstate 80.
The expansion project was said to have been the biggest and costliest single capital improvement of a city-operated facility in Salt Lake’s history.
The Chamber was also very active with the Utah Air Travel Commission. Along with representatives from the State of Utah and Salt Lake City government, the Chamber appointed five members to the panel to help improve airline service.
Before airline deregulation, communities competed in an exhaustive procedure to attract additional airlines and service to airports. The Civil Aeronautics Board and Federal Aviation Administration doled out perks at meetings in Washington, D.C., where communities and airlines could make a case for increased service. Early on, Salt Lake City had “average service” in the number of flights and connections provided by Western Airlines, United Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. Every flight east would stop at either Denver’s Stapleton Airport or Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
“We had too few flights and too many flights that necessitated a connection,” Fred Ball, the Chamber’s top executive, said of the time.
Z. (Bud) Kastler of Mountain Fuel Supply was the Chamber representative on the Air Travel Commission who helped push for more transcontinental carriers in the Salt Lake market. Under Kastler’s leadership, several cases for expansion were taken to Washington. American Airlines eventually entered the market, but did not plan any westbound service. The airline flew one flight to Dallas and three to Chicago. United increased service because of new competition, but still only flew to San Francisco, Denver, and Chicago on direct non-stops. No carriers connected directly to major Eastern airports.
Even with the additional flights and the addition of Eastern, TWA, and Texas International Airlines, with its cheap “peanuts fares,” the commission wanted better service. The use of “hub” locations by airlines was just developing. Local officials met with Larry Lee, a native Utahn and top executive with Western Airlines, about creating a Western hub at Salt Lake City. By February 1982, the deal was done.
“Larry Lee called a press conference to announce the approval and that one occasion was the most significant occurrence in the history of air travel service in the state of Utah. Many new direct, non-stop flights were added,” Ball wrote.