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Econ 919 — Building a better airport

Photo Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Municipal Airport is is the first thing a lot of people see when they get into town.

So it’s important that it looks good. And it’s much more up-to-date now, after a nearly $14 million remodel that wrapped up last spring. 

The city is cutting the ribbon on the updated terminal this week. 

“For people visiting Alaska, this will be their first or last or lasting impression of the Kenai Peninsula," said Eland Conway, the new airport manager. He replaced Mary Bondurant, who retired this year after 14 years on the job.

Kenai finished remodeling the Kenai Municipal Airport last year but has been holding out on a grand opening because of the pandemic. 

A lot of the changes in the updated airport are aesthetic, like new furniture and a large new mural that maps out the peninsula’s public lands.

There are also new bottle filling stations, chargers and a conference room, as well as remodeled offices for tenets.

The airport update started in 2018 — with a lower price tag. Early estimates placed it at $10 million.

“There was quite a bit of creep, from what I understand, on the original estimate for this project," Conway said.

The building hadn’t been updated in decades. So there was work that needed to go in behind the scenes, as well.

"When you’re dealing with older buildings and you start to tear into them and remodel them, you have to bring them up to code," Conway said. "So there was a lot of abatement for asbestos and things like that. And that’s always expensive to dispose of properly.”

The Federal Aviation Administration paid for more than 90 percent of the project. Kenai spotted the $1.3 million match.

Now that the remodel is wrapped up, the airport has several other updates on the horizon.

It’s getting a new airline — Rambler Air, which plans to offer daily flights from Kenai to Anchorage and back.

Luke Hickerson, vice president of operations for Rambler, said he was hoping the company would be ready to run before the summer. But he said they’re still working through some certification issues before they can get going.

This will be the first time all three slots in the airport are filled with airlines since 2013, back when Lake and Peninsula Air flew to Kenai.

During the pandemic, Grant was the only airline offering consistent scheduled service to and from Kenai. That was before Ravn Air returned in December under new leadership after going bankrupt.

Conway said this summer, there has been a high demand for flights.

"The flights are sold out, 100 percent capacity, the last few days," he said.

Outside the main terminal, the airport is also building agreements with other operators for use of its hangars.

SOAR International Ministries, a Kenai-based Christain mission, signed a lease with Kenai to use a hangar and an office in the old Kenai Fabric Center building. Two other companies are planning development on airport property to the north.

It’s all happening against the backdrop of a much more up-to-date airport. And as the place continues to see its summer rush, Conway said he’s thrilled with how it all turned out.

“What a transformation that has happened here," he said. "It was probably a little overdue and well deserved for the City of Kenai and the Kenai Peninsula.”

The airport is holding its ribbon cutting ceremony today at noon.

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