Wyden, Merkley Urge Federal Support for Rural Air Service

Washington, D.C. – Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today urged administration officials to provide more investment in rural air service that supports essential travel connections like commercial flights in and out of Pendleton’s Eastern Oregon Regional Airport. 

“The Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton is an example of an economic engine that is efficiently using federal programs to improve and expand operations,” Wyden and Merkley wrote in their letter to Transportation Department Secretary Elaine Chao and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “This is a rural community, still working to recover from the recession, and the need for infrastructure is only growing.”

The lawmakers’ letter, in response to proposed cuts in the president’s so-called “skinny budget,” highlighted the fact that the airport in Pendleton is the only commercial air service in Eastern Oregon. Losing that air link, they wrote, would put many communities at an economic disadvantage for attracting and retaining business — and create health concerns if rural seniors could not easily travel for specialty health care.

Wyden and Merkley also spotlighted the importance of federal investment in the “contract tower program” that bolsters commercial air service and provides crucial support for Eastern Oregon’s unmanned aerial systems (UAS) Pan-Pacific test range.

“The Contract Tower program has averaged around 10,000 operations per year in Pendleton, but is forecast to see around 50,000 operations because of the increased traffic due to UAS operations,” the senators wrote. “UAS vehicles have significant future applications —agriculture, business, package delivery, and search and rescue — and Pendleton offers a safe site to research and test both UAS vehicle innovations, as well as integration into the airspace.”