Those visitors to Catalina Island not looking to take a boat or helicopter but opting out for a private arrival in a private airplane will find the Airport In the Sky to be their destination airport when traveling to Catalina Island. The Catalina Airport is located in the center part of the island about 11 road miles from the town of Avalon at the to of the main mountain range slicing through the island. In fact its east/west facing runway literally sits on a cliff with the thresh holds on either end giving way to a steep drop. The landings and takeoffs from the airport in the sky can be quite dramatic, exciting and of course breath taking.
The airport originally opened in 1946 and the dramatic lay of the runway was created after blasting two mountain tops apart and hauling 200,000 truck loads of gravel to fill in between them. At one time United Airlines used to have daily service to the airport with DC-3 aircraft. Today the airport is primarily used by private pilots flying in from all over California in single engine aircraft (although occasional two engine props make an appearance as well). Although the airport has a visible control tower constructed above the small terminal, it is never staffed. Pilots must announce their intentions on a common frequency to maintain awareness.
The runway at the airport is 3,000 feet long by 60 feet wide. This is a typical runway layout for general aviation airports in California. As previously mentioned there are big drops on either side of the runway that make landing and departing the airport somewhat challenging. It is recommended in aviation circles that only more experienced pilots plan an arrival at the airport.
The actual terminal is home to The Runway Cafe where everyday fresh baked chocolate chip cookies are made. In addition the Café is famous for its Buffalo Burgers where many pilots just fly in to dine and then fly out. In addition to the Cafethe terminal is home to a small museum that features historical facts about Catalina Island, its geology and information on the wilderness of the island.
Visitors to Catalina Island who arrive by boat or helicopter (the helicopters arrive at a helipad in Avalon, not at the Catalina Airport) can see the airport by boarding one of the interior tours that leave from Tour Plaza. The interior tour winds its way up dirt roads that have dramatic drops of their west borders into the ocean below and end up at the airport. Pilots flying in from elsewhere seeking to travel into Avalon will find there is an airport shuttle bus that departs the airport for Avalon at 9:30am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 3:30pm, 5pm and 7pm at a cost of $17 one way. During summer Catalina Island offers a bus service from Avalon to the two harbors that makes a stop at the airport on the way. From there you can either travel to two harbors or down into Avalon.
Private pilots flying into the airport should be aware that there are no fueling stations at the airport. There is also a $20 landing fee.