Monday, November 30, 2020

Reclassification looms big for Seaside Municipal Airport (56S): Federal funding pipeline has vanished

Maintenance and hangar space remain the Seaside Airport Advisory Committee’s top priorities. After a national airport regulatory group reclassified the airport, the airport lost a pipeline to Federal Aviation Administration grant funds to cover major repairs and infrastructure.

“Previously it was $160,000 per year, which could be banked for up to three years for larger projects,” committee chairman Randall Henderson said. “We’re definitely in a ‘not being funded’ phase.”

The FAA funds helped pay for major projects like runway lighting, resurfacing and striping, taxiway improvements, an electrical shed and fencing.

Those funds are gone. Today the airport operates on an $8,000 budget from the city of Seaside. More than two-thirds of that covers maintenance, leaving little room for additions or upgrades.

“We are still are in need of paving repairs on the ramp, new tie-down anchors and chains, a dedicated internet connection for the weather station and cameras, and the other things we've asked the port to help with,” Henderson said.

The airport relies on small grants and donations, including $1,000 from the city of Gearhart to help pay for extras like bicycles, locks and helmets for visitors. They hope to receive funds from the Seaside Tourism Grant Program, a request that was previously denied.

The Port of Astoria does not share tax revenues with the Seaside Airport, though Seaside Airport Committee members plan to make new requests once in-person Port commission meetings resume.

Meanwhile, the Public Works Department and volunteers mow and perform other maintenance, including clearing driftwood on the south end of the runway after high tide or flood events — especially after king tides — that could pose danger to travelers.

Reclassification sought

The airport’s five current hangars were constructed in 2007. They are privately owned and may be sold or rented.

The need for more space comes from an increase in usage at the airport as a result of the local uptick in real estate, the availability of real-time weather and cameras, word of mouth and an overall recent rise in the amount of general aviation hours flown, Henderson said.

If the airport could accommodate 10 aircraft, whether through added hangars, shared space or outdoor tie-downs, that would get them moved up from “unclassified” to “basic” in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, making make the airport eligible for federal grant funding.

New hangars would most likely be placed along the western edge of the existing tie-down ramp, clear of the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone and shown on the airport’s FAA approved layout plan, he said. Along the northern edge is also a possibility.

The number of on-site based aircraft isn’t the only criteria, he added. “We could get there in other ways, say more military, commercial or training use or simply a higher traffic count altogether. But we have been told that 10 based aircraft would do it and that seems the most likely path.”

Another option could be through private funding initiatives to to construct hangars. “That’s how our existing hangar bank came about,” Henderson said.

The developer, a retired airline pilot with a plane and a place in Gearhart, took deposits on all of the bays before committing.

The developer has moved out of the area, but is doing similar projects at other small airports.

“I’ve had conversations with a few people who could be in a position to do it,” Henderson said. “There is some interest but nothing concrete at this point.”

Henderson believes new economical hangars would be filled up without much trouble.

There's only so much market for this sort of hangar but I believe if we had some more economical hangars here they'd be filled up without much trouble.

Henderson remains optimistic that the airport will successfully address FAA reclassification.

“Fifteen years ago I wouldn’t have thought we’d have five hangars here with planes in them and interest for more,” he said. “So yes, I believe it’s possible. But it’s also an uphill battle. We’ll just keep persevering.”

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