ST. GEORGE — The new St. George Municipal Airport has been open for business for a little more than a year now, but not everyone is aware.
But even though some travelers still go to the old airport — only to find out that it's closed — the new airport has been a success.
"The numbers, as far as the financial numbers, we're actually on a nice upswing also,” St. George Airport Manager Rich Stehmeier.
Currently, five flights a day go to Salt Lake City, and one to Los Angeles. Soon, direct flights to Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco could depart from here. Not only is there interest in going to those cities, Stehmeier said there was interest from those locations.
"Those kinds of people are starting to look at us because of our proximity to Zion National Park, Bryce, Grand Canyon, all these places that people come from all over the world to come here," he said.
The airport, which hosted an inaugural takeoff and landing in January 2011, cost roughly $160 million, with $123 million from the federal government.
The airport is built about five miles away from St. George in a completely new area to the southeast of the city. The airport is five times larger than the old one. The 9,500-foot runway now makes it possible for more types of aircraft, such as the 737, to fly in and out of St. George, which was impossible at the old airport that sat on top of a bluff overlooking the city.
Last year, 137,000 passengers used the St. George airport. That's the highest since the economy crashed four years ago.
"It's just opened up all sorts of new economic opportunities,” said Scott Hirschi, director of Washington County's Economic Development team.
He said businesses looking to move to the area like the new airport. Family Dollar is building a distribution center here, bringing 400 new jobs to the area. Hirschi remembered their executives talking about the airport. “It’s the first thing many of those businesses see as they come to our community and land there,” he said.
But for some locals, it's still taking a little while to get used to. A few still come to the old airport, only to find out it's closed.
"People would call up and say, 'Hey, my plane leaves in 45 minutes, and I just pulled up to the terminal, and there's no one here,'" Stehmeier said. Some private pilots also aren't aware and have landed at the old airport, even with big X’s on the runway.
Stehmeier felt last month’s air show with the Blue Angels helped let people know where they are now. "The number of calls we take on a daily basis about, ‘How do I get to the airport,’ has dropped to almost nothing lately."