Salt Lake City International Airport’s Bill Wyatt named Airport Director of the Year

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Bill Wyatt, executive director of Salt Lake City International Airport, gives a tour of construction there on Feb. 20, 2019. He was just named Airport Director of the Year after opening the first phase of the new airport on time and on budget despite the pandemic, recession and an earthquake.

He oversaw a three-point landing of the first phase of a new $4.1 billion airport that was essentially built on top of the old Salt Lake City International Airport without disrupting operations — and finished amid a pandemic that devastated the airline industry, plus a 5.7 magnitude earthquake to boot.

With that, Bill Wyatt, executive director of the airport, was named Airport Director of the Year for large airports by Airport Experience News, a trade magazine that covers the air industry.

“Wyatt’s ability to pivot during an extraordinarily difficult time for the industry and still deliver a world-class facility provided a bright spot in what has been a challenging year for North American airports,” the magazine wrote.

Wyatt told the magazine that he was flattered, but, “I realize I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this amazing team around me.”

Wyatt took his job in 2017 when the airport project had begun but was not yet far along. He said he liked the challenge of building the nation’s first new airport since the 9/11 terrorist attacks drove massive security changes, plus also managing an existing airport that was then operating at twice its design capacity.

He was not new to challenges. He became director of the airport in Portland, Ore., just days before 9/11, and he had to navigate through all the changes that brought.

Rob Moore, CEO of Big D Construction, a major contractor at the airport, said, “This could have been difficult for us — This is a massive project and we have as many as 1,650 craftspeople on the job every day. ...

“You’ve got to make decisions quickly. Then of course COVID hit, and we had an earthquake in the middle of it. Bill is very calm, very precise. He said we’d get through this, and we did,” Moore told the magazine.

Pat Murray, executive vice president of SSP America, a group of restaurants for travelers, said Wyatt helped to find city-backed financing for several concessionaires who were struggling to build out facilities at the new airport amid the pandemic and earthquake.

“To my knowledge, nothing like that has ever been done before,” Murray said. “It was really remarkable to see how quick he moved on that.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall told the magazine that Wyatt “has been remarkably undeterred to keep the $4.1 billion project on time and on budget even through the pandemic and earthquake in March. Bill can analyze a situation and turn a problem into an opportunity, and we’ve seen him do that again and again.”

Wyatt told the magazine, “It is really special to be part of something that is going to have such a long-term positive impact on this community. … There isn’t quite anything like it.”