Bill Wyatt: Finding a good place to land in Utah

Bill Wyatt retired at the end of June as executive director of the Port of Portland (Oregon), a position he’d held since 2001. He had no plans to dive back into the driver’s seat of another airport authority, until he heard about the ambitious redevelopment underway at Salt Lake International.

“I’ve always had great appreciation for the enormous value airports serve in our communities,” Wyatt says. “I was drawn by the opportunity in Salt Lake City to be a part of what is happening here.”

Wyatt was named executive director of the city’s Department of Airports in October. He will oversee the airport’s $3 billion redevelopment program in addition to the regular operations of Salt Lake International, the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan and the Tooele Valley Airport—operations involving over 500 employees, 1,000 contracts and an annual budget of $367 million.

“I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and to inherit this great team,” he says. “Salt Lake International handled nearly 26,000 passengers a day during the holidays. Expansion is way overdue. When the airport in its current configuration was built, it was designed to handle 10 million passengers a year. This past year, we handled 24 million.”

Unlike any other airport in the United States, Wyatt says Salt Lake International has a master plan. Most airports in the nation were built with 1990s designs and few have been updated. After the events of 9/11 and the recession in 2008, costs for fuel skyrocketed to over $140 a barrel and airlines weren’t able or willing to participate with airport authorities on redevelopment. But Salt Lake was rather unique. As the economy improved and more passengers returned to the skies, the airport authority was able to get buy-ins from its providers—particularly Delta Air Lines in this case. Thus the project, being paid for without a single cent of local taxes, will result in the only redevelopment of a major airport in the nation.

“At the end of day,” Wyatt says, “we will be the only brand-new airport in the U.S.”

The two-phase expansion will be complete sometime in 2020. New terminals will replace the current ones, and portions of the first phase are in the midst of completion. Those include a new parking garage with 3,500 spaces (the current garage has about 1,400), a rental car quick turnaround facility, and a new utility center for heating and air conditioning. Wyatt says making all of these changes over the next few years while still operating current facilities “is like changing tires on a bus while it’s driving down the road.”

But he’s excited about the organic growth in Utah. “Based on the Salt Lake market and Utah’s economy, I anticipate we’ll see additional flights added, including internationally in the years ahead.”

Wyatt spent most of his life in the Portland area, but he loves Utah and the outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing and fishing that it offers. He even bought a home here almost immediately.

“I stayed in my position at the Port of Portland about 10 years longer than most executive directors stay in those kind of posts,” he says. “I was literally retired about a week when a recruiter called me to see if I had any interest in the Salt Lake position. So after looking at the scope of what we want to accomplish here, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”