By editorial board • 

Airport in need of new support, investment

McMinnville Municipal Airport, under city control since 1943, is about to mark two important milestones.

The airport’s fixed-base operation — which fixes and fuels planes, rents planes and hangars and offers other general aviation services, including flight lessons — is about to change hands. After 15 years with Cirrus Aviation and almost two with Konect Aviation, the reins are being passed to Potcake Aviation.

Meanwhile, contractors are in the final stages of an $8 million reconstruction of the larger of the airport’s two runways. The smaller underwent similar renovation a few years ago, so both should now be ready for decades.

That presents the city with an opportunity to better tap the airport’s economic potential, which looms particularly large in a community increasingly oriented toward high-end wine country tourism.

More than five years ago, the state Department of Aviation concluded the 650-acre facility was helping support more than 2,500 jobs, $109 million in payroll and $375 million in visitor spending. But that contribution could become much larger if it weren’t for city insistence that the airport, unlike the library, park system or street grid, remain strictly self-supporting.

Meaningful progress will demand the city — and potentially the county and other cities as partners — begin infusing some resources. Fortunately, compared to other areas where the city is funneling large sums, such as tourism promotion, where dividends tend to be murky, distant and indirect, airport investment promises a clear, immediate and direct payoff.

Most of McMinnville’s general aviation competitors feature owners willing and able to step up.

In the case of the state’s busiest — Hillsboro Airport, which has grown to 950 acres, three runways and four FBOs — it’s the Port of Portland. The deep-pocketed port, which also owns and operates massive Portland International, has invested tens of millions in Hillsboro upgrades.

In the case of 28 other Oregon airports, it’s the equally prosporous state Department of Aviation. In addition to Aurora and Independence, both key competitors of McMinnville’s, the state’s holdings include Bandon, Cascade Locks, Cottage Grove, Lebanon, Mulino, Nehalem, Oakridge, Pacific City, Santiam Junction and Toledo.

Potcake, improbably named after a type of dog native to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Bahamas, seems to have a deep-pocketed proprietor of its own in Roy Armstrong of Dundee.

His holdings include the Armstrong Elevator Company, Peninsula Helicopters, Northwest Jet Aviation, a fleet of 20 piston, turboprop and jet aircraft, and a wine operation in the Dundee Hills. His credentials include degrees in aeronautics and engineering, 10 years of local residency and a prior commitment to develop new hangar facilities at the airport.

That should equip him well to partner with the city in efforts to move the airport into the general aviation big leagues in Oregon.

It’s time the public sector quit relying solely on the private counterpart to make that investment when it comes to one of the community’s most valuable economic assets.

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