Looking back to when Grand Canyon aviation began

By Ryan Harding / ADOT Communications

Red Butte AerodomeOn this day in 1928, according to The Associated Press, the Grand Canyon’s first official airport was dedicated by its owner, Scenic Airways. That airport was the predecessor to the current airport in Tusayan that ADOT has operated since 1974. 

Scenic Airways was founded by J. Parker Van Zandt, and he fell in love with seeing the Grand Canyon from the air while delivering an airplane from Detroit to California while working for the Ford Motor Co. in 1927, according to The Arizona Republic. That article goes on to say that Van Zandt was back at the Grand Canyon soon after negotiating a deal with the Fred Harvey Co. to fly tourists over the canyon.

By the next year, pilots were taking off from dirt airstrips to ferry tourists over the mile-deep gorge, less than a decade after the Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919.

Red Butte Airplane HangarThe current airport in Tusayan came decades  later. The 14,000-square-foot terminal, with an A-frame lobby and wood-burning fireplace, was dedicated in 1967.

Today, Grand Canyon National Park Airport is Arizona's fourth-busiest airport in terms of passengers served. The airport hosts six air tour companies and has commercial flights coming in daily from three airlines based in the Las Vegas region. Together, the airport and its tour companies serve well over 300,000 passengers annually.

Scenic Airways eventually became Grand Canyon Airlines and is still in operation today doing charter flights and tours of the Grand Canyon.

For a more detailed look at the early years of aviation at the Grand Canyon, including visits by famous pilots of the day like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, check out this ADOT blog post.