In this place of ports and boats, it can seem irregular to consider the importance of airport, airplanes and flying skills. Our stories last week drive home the point that the Astoria Regional Airport is, if anything, gaining in importance and that a cadre of area citizens has a renewed passion for civil aviation.
Although our area has struggled without lasting success to keep a commuter airline interested in serving local passengers, there clearly are a number of other perfectly viable economic and strategic uses for a significant airport. The relocation of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Columbia River command structure to the mouth of the Columbia is one of the most obvious reasons for the airport’s relevancy, but the Columbia River Bar Pilots, Lektro, Brim Aviation, UPS and others also see it as key to their ability to serve local customers and community needs.
Most likely thanks to the Coast Guard component of airport use, the Federal Aviation Administration is being particularly helpful in facilitating a thorough reconstruction of the airport’s Runway 13-31, to the tune of $4.6 million, plus a very welcome $480,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation. As a consequence, airport owner Port of Astoria will get a first-class runway for as little as $30,000. This is still a painful expense considering the Port’s financial straits, but irresistible considering the benefits.
Along with the airport’s other runway, 8-26, which was recently redone, we’ll have sufficient capacity to receive planes as large as Boeing 737s in a variety of weather and wind conditions. It’s probably safe to say that the recent talk of scheduling 747 stops here will not come to pass, the airliners we will be able to accommodate will make the airport a viable stop for air cargo, military flights and an array of other functions.
It’s also encouraging to see local people endeavor to keep the American tradition of civil aviation alive. The new Astoria Flying Club harkens back to traditions of the mid-20th century, when there was an active dream of making small, private airplanes nearly as ubiquitous as cars and pickups.
In more recent times, the complications and distractions of modern life along with factors like higher insurance costs have eroded interest in learning to fly light planes. But there remains an enthusiastic group of private pilots in both Clatsop and Pacific, Wash., counties who fly for fun, commute to jobs elsewhere in the region and sometimes find ways to turn their flying skills into a little income on everything from aerial photography to sightseeing jaunts.
Flying small planes can be a tremendously effective way of interesting young people in careers in aviation and at the same time imparts a working knowledge of everything from meteorology and mechanics to electronics and practical math. As one local pilot remarked for our story, flying can generate a kind of spiritual serenity for participants — an enhanced awareness of the natural world that percolates through society. Some might go so far as to say that a nation that flies together stays together.
We’re fortunate to have an increasingly healthy airport, one that links us to the Pacific Northwest interior in ways that are profitable and, looking ahead to natural disasters, reassuring.