By editorial board • 

Stars aligning for airport; it’s time to seize the moment

We’ve been writing editorials for years urging McMinnville and its aviation community to do more to capitalize on one of the city’s most underutilized assets — its 650-acre, dual-runway general aviation airport.

Thankfully, we finally have something positive to report. The first dedicated administrator in the airport’s nearly 80-year history — aviation industry veteran Willy Williamson, named to the newly created part-time post in July — plans to begin work on a master plan to guide facility development over the next 20 years.

It’s about time.

Decades of making the airport a neglected afterthought of the city’s Public Works Department have gotten us nothing more than periodic runway work funded by the federal government. That’s fostered headlines like this on our editorial pages:

“Stepchild airport deserves attention,” from 2004. “Airport needs upgrades, focused growth strategies,” from 2007. “Airport an asset worthy of serious investment,” from 2015. And “Airport never seems to catch any attention,” from 2018.

We doubt Williamson is taking any cues from us. But we’re delighted that a man as credential-laden as he is seems as struck with the airport’s untapped potential as we are. We’re even more delighted that he seems determined to do something about it.

Williamson first developed a love affair with aviation through Coast Guard postings on the East Coast, West Coast and Hawaiian Islands.

He’s a private pilot and certified flight engineer who’s earned airframe, powerplant and aeronautics licenses. And he’s previously managed two airports — Boulder City in Nevada and Pearson Field in Vancouver, Washington.

The airport has been operating under a rolling set of five-year plans. But Williamson plans to seek city council approval next month to bring in a consultant to help guide development of a more ambitious 20-year master plan.

One of the big drivers is a burgeoning wine industry drawing a big increase in both prop and jet traffic.

“There’s more corporate activity flying in and out, especially associated with the wine industry,” Williamson said. And he said, “We can’t handle a Gulfstream 650 or something like that … but the vast majority of aircraft in the world can land at this airport.”

What’s more, he’s counting on the Federal Aviation Administration to foot 90% of the cost — a major selling point.

The field features lighted runways of 4,340 and 5,420 feet, the latter capable of handling most private jets. It houses glider and helicopter operations, offers glider, helicopter and fixed-wing pilot training, sells fuel, rents planes, leases hangar space, and offers tours and maintenance services.

It houses more than 100 fixed-wing craft, along with 15 helicopters, four gliders and three jets. It hosts more than 60,000 operations a year, with civilian visitors accounting for 63% of the traffic, locals 33% and the military 2%.

But it features no shuttle service, only a limited greeter service manned mostly by retired private-pilot volunteers, and utterly uninviting base facilities. That’s not the savviest way to welcome well-heeled Wine Country guests flying in for a full-meal-deal Wine Country getaway.

The food, wine and scenery are superb in these parts, and the downtown is as charming as they come. We offer a world-class array of wineries and winetasting rooms, along with draws like the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, just across the highway from the airport, and Spirit Mountain Casino, just up the road a piece.

To say our little airport pales by comparison is putting it charitably. It needs less idle talk and a lot more purposeful action to realize its potential.

Williamson’s masterplan endeavor seems tailor-made for the job. Let’s get on with it.


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