Sole regional airport nets FAA funds to pay for holding apron, taxiway

ONTARIO — A federal grant for the City of Ontario’s Municipal Airport has been announced and the airport could receive up to $83,800 in funding to construct a holding apron and taxiway.

The amount is a preliminary estimate which could change slightly, according to information about the grant appropriations for airports throughout the United States from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Manager Dan Beaubien said the airport is in a five-year plan with the FAA for funding. As such, the FAA each year asks for five years in advance planning for the airport.

The federal funding helps airports across the nation stay in a “connected system,” he said.

“Airports are like highways, they all have to function and work,” Beaubien said. Because of this, “we go after something we need for improvement.”

In recent years, FAA grants have paid for security fencing, lighting, signs and a taxiway, he said, adding that the goal is to continue to do something each year to make it bigger and better.

The plan this year is to put in a holding apron at the end of runway 33, Beaubien said. This would provide a spot for a pilot to go down and park to check lights and other necessities before taking off, while allowing other planes to go by. In addition, they plan to put a taxiway on the eastern portion of the field so pilots “don’t have to drive through dirt and grass” to get to the asphalt.

The Ontario Municipal Airport serves “everyone around here,” Beaubien said, as it is the only regional category 3 airport in the area. That means it’s the airport for Fruitland, Nyssa, Adrian, Parma and Weiser, and for anyone who wants to land a jet that can’t do so in Vale or Payette.

“If you want to drop your jet in from Texas and talk about the onion harvest, they are going to fly into Ontario,” Beaubien said.

Bigger ones are an hour or more drive time away, he said, such as Caldwell, Nampa or Boise. Outside of those, heading south, one would have to go past Jordan Valley and Winemucca, Nevada, while bigger airports north are as far away as Baker City and LaGrande.

And while it’s a municipal airport, that means the city owns the grounds and land, but the airport itself is a “federally assured” airport.

“It’s just as important to Vale, Nyssa and Parma — it serves us all,” he said.

Being federally assured means that the FAA gives them funding with criteria set forth to be met, such as ensuring the funds are spent on worthwhile endeavors that help connect Oregon and the region, Beaubien said.

In the past few years, airport officials have worked toward spending FAA funds on ensuring the airport become an attraction for pilots, which included the security fencing.

“So, if people want to park a 10-million-dollar jet here, they can and not have to worry about security,” Beaubien said.

While it’s unlikely they would be able to extend the runway out any farther, as that was done 10 years ago, and there is no room left without running into the Highway 201 on the south or “bailing off a cliff” on the north end, Beaubien said.

However, “we can do amazing things with the airport because we have acreage and other things that other airports don’t have.”

Attracting people to the airport is as important as attracting pilots, Beaubien said. This is why the former Air Fair is making a comeback this year, under the name of Ontario Airport Appreciation Day and Fly-In. Beaubien hopes people come from across the Western Treasure Valley to see the show on Saturday.

“What a treat for these young kids, running around, eyes huge, it’s like Disneyland for them — they need this,” he said.

While they couldn’t get the grass runway completed in time for the show, the plan is to pick back up work on that project after the show.

The FAA award is part of more than $7.5 million grants that were secured for Oregon airports to help fund “installation, rehabilitation and reconstruction projects to modernize facilities and improve safety,” according to a news release from the U.S. Senate.

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced the grants for Oregon on Thursday in the joint news release.

“I’m going to keep using my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure investments that make our airports safer, our economy stronger, and our communities more connected for generations to come,” Merkley said in the release.

Wyden commented that airports in every part of the state generated jobs and also provided links for both passenger travel and lifesaving services.

“These new resources make important infrastructure investments that allow these airports to build on their regions’ economic strengths, and I am proud to have teamed up with local officials to earn these vital transportation grants,” he said.