February 13, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
When construction begins this year on two parallel taxiways at the Columbia Gorge Regional Airport, the activity will mark the latest step in an upbeat development program that is meeting the demands of projected growth head-on.
Last year, the two-runway airport that sits at the end of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area—with views of Mount Hood—undertook a runway overlay project and got rid of a hump in the runway that hindered visibility. The airport, which is owned jointly by the City of The Dalles, Ore., and Klickitat County in Washington state, also began work on a new business park.
With Yakima, Wash., and Portland, Ore., both less than 90 miles away, that project will offer businesses cost-saving access to air and ground transportation links including the nearby Interstate 84, and railroad links.
The airport’s fixed-base operator, Gorge Aviation Services, boosted its capacity by building a new 5,000-square-foot maintenance hangar. Larry Spencer, AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer at Columbia Gorge Regional, has actively advocated for airport development projects—and the airport’s eligibility for grant funding has paved its way into the future.
Planning means funding However, it takes more than eligibility for airport improvement grants to set projects in motion at your local airport, says John Collins, AOPA manager of airport policy.
“If your airport is eligible for federal or state airport improvement funds, it is important to have an FAA accepted master plan and a current capital improvement plan on file with the FAA,” he said.
There’s also a strategic element that should not be overlooked.
“The airport should have a business plan that shows how it plans to grow, and a marketing plan for educating the community and region about how the airport will participate in the region’s economic growth.”
Fortunately, airport committees or volunteers taking on those essential assignments have rich sources of guidance to lean on as they move forward.
A new guidebook from the Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program can help your general aviation airport develop a winning airport business plan, Collins said.
Other helpful publications from the FAA-funded research program include The Marketing Guidebook for Small Airports and the Guidebook for Managing Small Airports .
If planning a new hangar complex is on your airport’s agenda, AOPA’s Aircraft Hangar Development Guide can get your project moving.
Looking at the airport’s future needs, Collins reminds airport advocates and supporters that when grant funding is being distributed, successfully accomplished projects can help an airport obtain additional grants to keep development moving ahead and maximize the return on capital investments.
That kind of planning and execution has helped Columbia Gorge Regional Airport stake its claim to being an airport “that works to provide commercial and private aircraft owners what they need,” he said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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