MADRAS — The upgrades are expected to keep coming at the Madras Municipal Airport.
Earlier this month the airport just northwest of Madras reopened its main runway following the completion of a four-month-long construction project that completely rebuilt the airstrip that dated back to the early 1940s. The 5,079-foot runway will be able to handle larger, heavier aircraft, said Rob Berg, airport manager.
Later this summer, the Madras Airport will upgrade its aviation fuel tanks. Currently, the airport houses two tanks that combined are more than 130 years old.
“We’re not sure on the exact dates, but we think the one is from the 1930s,” Berg said Thursday.
The runway renovation and fuel tank upgrades are all part of a $3.05 million project paid for in large part by a Federal Aviation Administration grant. The FAA, through its Airport Improvement Program, provided $2,059,169 to the city, which owns the airport. A ConnectOregon V grant from the state provided another $792,000 and the city chipped in $200,000.
“This brings us into the 21st century,” said Berg, who also serves as the airport’s fixed-base operator, providing aviation services such as fueling, mechanics and hangars.
The renovation projects, according to Berg, also help the airport compete in the always evolving world of general aviation. With similar-size airports in Prineville and Bend, an updated runway is crucial for the Madras Airport’s longterm success, he said.
“There’s not a whole lot of ways to generate revenue at an airport,” Berg said. “Fuel sales, hangars and ground leases, that’s about it. But you’ve got to have people want to fly into here to make money on any of those.”
In recent years, the airport has seen a surge in planes on the field — planes that make the Madras Airport their home airport . According to Berg, 112 airplanes are based at the airport, more than double the 49 that were there in 2013, the latest numbers available from the Oregon Department of Aviation.
“The goal is to get that (planes on the field) number up, because that’s how the FAA measures airports for their Airport Improvement Funding grants,” Berg said.
Activity at the Madras Airport has grown in recent months since the Erickson Aircraft Collection, an aviation museum with more than 20 World War II-era planes, opened at the airport last August.
“There’s 11 B-17s in the world that are still flying, and one of them is based in Madras, Oregon,” Berg said about the famous “Madras Maiden” housed in the Erickson Collection. “Every time they fly to an air show, people are seeing the Madras Maiden. It’s great for Oregon, it’s great for Central Oregon and its phenomenal for Madras.”
Earlier this month, Jefferson County announced plans to expand its enterprise zone to include approximately 1,450 acres near the airport, which could generate more aviation-related business. And, Berg said, the airport’s annual Airshow of the Cascades, the second-largest air show in the state, expects to draw more than 20,000 spectators for the two-day event in August.
He expects even more business to come the airport’s way with its improved infrastructure, an available railway spur, and its proximity to U.S. Highways 97 and 26.
“We’re uniquely situated in Madras,” Berg said. “The airport’s in an industrial park and we have railroad and highway access. The only thing we’re missing is marine (availability).
“We’re the first stop on this side of the mountains, so we have people fly in from all over,” he added. “Groups of guys that come to fly-fish on the Deschutes River and elite skiers who come every summer for the national team ski camp at Mount Hood. … We’re proud to make the first impression on people when they fly into Central Oregon.”