The Hermiston Municipal Airport may be eligible for up to $2 million in grants and matching funds for capital improvements that would fund realignment of the taxiway and add fencing to the property.

 Airport advisory chair Neal Christopherson said the Federal Aviation Association may contribute between $1.5 million to $2 million for capital improvements to the city-owned airport. He said the FAA will pay for 90 percent of the total project cost.

“The city will come up with the other 10 percent, which isn’t bad,” Christopherson said.

City Manager Ed Brookshier said when the grant money is made available, the city will provide the local match. Brookshier said $40,000 per year will be set aside for the project over the next three years.

Christopherson said plans would include realignment of the northwest end of the airport taxiway, away from the runway. The added fencing is hoped to deter passersby from using the airport as an alternative walkway to the Umatilla County Fair when it arrives nearby.

“We don't want this to be a shortcut to walk to the fair,” airport Manager Susie Rawe said.

Christopherson hopes to see the project completed in 2014.

“We want a little more wing distance for the aircraft,” he said. “It's all a safety issue.”

 Terminal improvements are expected as early as this year, according to airport management.

Rawe said there have been few improvements to the facility since she and her husband, Larry, became caretakers in 1985. That includes the lime-green and orange carpet on the floors and a mounted deer head on the wall, part of the decor that hasn’t changed in 27 years.

“There's not money to spend on those things,” Rawe said.

Rawe and her husband are contracted by the city under Hermiston Aviation, Inc. Compensation for the service is provided by allowing a flat monthly contract fee as well as living in the city-owned airport manager’s home.

Rawe has a tall order of needed improvements inside the airport terminal, separate from exterior improvements.

“The furnace is the first priority,” Rawe said. Rawe said the windows on the caretaker residence are also a priority.

The original heating and cooling system of the building have not been replaced since June 1978, she said. Rawe believes the windows at the house were there before she and her husband arrived.  

Rawe will start looking for a bid to repair a furnace after July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

Rawe would also like a satellite service for the airport and to replace chairs inside the terminal.

A computer system has been donated for weather briefing and flight planning for pilots who frequent the facility.

Improvements to the terminal are slated to take place in the 2012-13 and the 2013-14 fiscal years, she said.

Rawe and her husband, who works in Pendleton, live next to the airport, with planes stationed only feet from the fenced-in yard owned by the city.

“We have people who camp in our yard or under the wing of their aircraft,” she said.

Rawe said there are no scheduled flights at Hermiston Municipal Airport, meaning anyone can land or take off from the airport.

“Aircraft don't need to have a radio,” Rawe said. “They can land any time.”

There are 30,000 take-offs and landings at the airstrip each year, also called operations.

About 40 aircraft are housed in hangars at the facility.

Three agricultural operators fly in and out of the airport as well during 365 days of operation. The airport terminal building operates 362 days a year.

Pilot Truck stop, Wal-Mart, and UPS are among several corporations that frequent the airport. UPS flies in and out of the airport nine times a week, she said.

Meeting newcomers and greeting the public are her favorite parts of the job.

“Oftentimes we are the first impression they have of Hermiston,” Rawe said.

Rawe often fields calls from those who have dialed the facility by accident, who are surprised they are talking with airport personnel.

“We have an airport? I didn't know we had an airport,” some have told her.

“Fewer and fewer people are able to have it (flying) as a hobby,” Rawe said.

Cristopherson takes aerial photographs from the air to diagnose the health and condition of crops around the Hermiston area.

He has had an interest in aviation since he was young.

“Ever since I was 5 years old, I wanted to fly,” Christopherson said.

Christopherson was one of seven pilots who took youth age 8 to 17 on free flights Saturday for the Young Eagles program.

The program promotes an interest in aviation for youth and their families. Despite wind and partial clouds, more than 180 youth signed up for a ride, Susie Rawe said Monday.

Pilot Chet Prior couldn’t recall how many years he has given flights to youth, but he hinted it was a lot.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Prior said after landing. “Kids get a big kick out of it.”

As he introduced himself to a new batch of young flight passengers, he told one girl: “You’re probably not going to keep your hair in place all day.”

Another passenger who had just returned from a flight bounded around the plane after landing.

“It was so fun!” Olivia Ostrom, 13, said to those who waited for her after she landed.

Ostrom said the pilot showed her and other kids Armand Larive Middle School and the Umatilla River from the air.

Another young girl who had flown with two of her friends said, “Every car looked like it was a toy.”

Parents and family friends seemed to enjoy the events too, which included displays of an Air National Guard Chinook helicopter, a Hermiston Police Department motorcycle as well as displays from the local RC?flying club.

“This is awesome, definitely good advertising for Hermiston,” said Erin Moore of Hermiston. “If we had this when we were kids, we definitely would have done it.”

To find out more about the airport, Airport Advisory Committee meetings are held the first Wednesday of the month at 4 p.m. at 1600 Airport Way. The next meeting will be held July 11, to observe Fourth of July.

            

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