How to revive an airport: Sisters Eagle

August 15, 2013

The "tremendous renewal" of a small airport in Oregon’s Central Cascade Mountains exemplifies what can be achieved when public and private resources are put to work toward a common goal with community support, AOPA said.

Sisters Eagle Airport, in Sisters, Ore., a privately owned, public-use airport, has begun to thrive, its use increasing and its facilities dramatically expanded by an infusion of $1 million for infrastructure upgrades, said David Ulane, AOPA Northwest/Mountain regional manager.

City and county officials are working to maximize the return on those investments, taking steps required to extend the city limits to include the 34-acre airport property to enable future expansion.

The projects to improve airport facilities were completed earlier this year, funded by a state support program strongly advocated by AOPA, and by private capital. The result was a rehabilitated and widened runway—from 30 feet to 60 feet—as well as the addition of self-serve fuel, and repaved parking areas. The state’s share came from the ConnectOregon transportation funding program, which AOPA strongly supports. The airport’s owners, Benny and Julie Benson, put up $400,000, said Ulane.

"Not many years ago, Sisters Eagle was a struggling GA facility, but has seen tremendous renewal and investment thanks to dedicated owners, a supportive community, and the state of Oregon’s commitment to funding transportation projects of all sizes across the state," Ulane said. "Also, AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer, Hobbs Magaret, has been a significant driving force for the airport."

The effort to bring the airport site within the municipal boundaries—basically, an annexation of the property—is needed to enable future improvements, Magaret said. The next step would be to rezone the property from its current rural residential designation, paving the way for future plans to construct a new office building, up to 30 T-hangars, a parallel taxiway, more parking, and other amenities. The airport hosts U.S. Forest Service helicopter operations during the summer firefighting season, and also is the site of the community gardens, he said.

No longer is Sisters Eagle an airport on "life support," Magaret said in an email.

Ulane agreed. "This is an example of how GA airports can thrive with excellent capital investment, a supportive local community, and engaged AOPA members,” he said.  “The continued improvement and growth of this airport is a great story."

If all that sounds like a roadmap to a brighter future for your airport and community, Ulane offers this advice: "Work with your ASN volunteer to support, promote, and grow your local airport, and be sure to tell its positive stories to members of your community often!"