(Update: Adding video, comments from airport manager, pilot)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The third-busiest airport in Oregon is preparing for an upgrade, in the form of an 80- to100-foot-tall air traffic control tower.
Tracy Williams, manager of the Bend Municipal Airport, said the tower is needed.
"Out of the top five busiest airports in the state of Oregon, Bend is the only one without an air traffic control tower, and it's long overdue," she said Thursday.
She said in October of last year, the airport was accepted as a candidate for the FAA Contract Tower (FCT) program, and was given a five-year window to build a tower. (Through the FCT program, the air traffic controllers are privately contracted and not FAA employees).
The $7.5 million project would be funded by the city of Bend, along with state and federal grants.
The airport is issuing a request for a consultant on Sept. 22 and will submit an application for the grant through the Central Oregon Area Commission on Transportation (COACT) by Sept. 29.
Williams said approval should be announced in the spring of 2022, and construction will begin shortly after.
"Two years from October of last year, so within, hopefully a year, a year and a half from now,” Williams said.
Williams says the airport is growing, with 120,000 annual operations in 2018, 160,000 at present and as many as 180,000 expected by 2030.
"The No. 1 priority with our airport users is to have an air traffic control tower," she said.
Pilot Andrew Semanskee flew into Bend for the first time Thursday, and said there is a lot more pressure on a pilot when landing without a tower.
"Looking for that person, hoping you don't hit them. Being really diligent on the radios, talking, making sure everybody's looking out for one another,” Semanskee said.
He said with a tower, it adds a sense of structure.
"With the tower, you have kind of a mediator between pilots to give you that separation that you want and keep everybody safe, vs. here, it can be a free-for-all, at times,” Semanskee said.