(Update: Adding video, comments from airport manager, pilot)
Bend is third-busiest airport in state, only one of top 5 without a tower
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Bend Municipal Airport is the third busiest public-use airport in Oregon, and it's been in need of an air traffic control tower for a while now. The city of Bend said Thursday it's been awarded a $4.8 million Connect Oregon grant to add the tower, and pilots say it's about time.
The tower is part of the airport master plan to guide the airport for the next 20 to 50 years.
Officials said an air traffic control tower will increase aviation safety in the region by separating and sequencing aircraft, reduce conflicts with air traffic from the Redmond, Prineville and Madras airports, and make airport operations more efficient. More organized traffic flow will also reduce fuel use and lower greenhouse gas emissions, the city said.
“There are 97 public-use airports in the State of Oregon, and of the top five busiest ones -Portland, Hillsboro, Bend, Troutdale and Redmond - Bend’s is the third-busiest, but the only one of the top five without an air traffic control tower,” said Airport Manager Tracy Williams. “This is much-needed funding for a critical project at the airport.”
Williams said a tower was the No. 1 aviation improvement that pilots requested in a 2019 survey.
" It means we will have better operational efficiency," Williams said. "Our airport will provide for even safer separation of aircraft that are in flight and those that are taking off."
An airport’s operations are measured by the number of times an aircraft lands or takes off. Current annual operations at Bend Municipal Airport total about 141,000 takeoffs and landings.
Pilot Nathan Terry said it can get hectic in the air, and he's had to quickly turn out of the way or slow down when flying around other aircraft
"There's a lot of flight training going on, so you've got not only helicopters flying around in the area --in the airport, in the pattern," Terry said. "But you have airplanes that are bigger airplanes, smaller airplanes --- we who come on the jets are typically going a lot faster, moving around a lot quicker than any of the training aircraft here. Occasionally, it does get hectic how we can kind of slide into the flow of traffic and land and take off safely."
Oregon Department of Transportation's Connect Oregon is an initiative established by the 2005 state Legislature to invest in non-highway modes of transportation, such as aviation, rail and marine.
Connect Oregon made about $46 million available for infrastructure projects. Aviation, rail and marine projects in Oregon were eligible. Out of 603 applications, 21 were awarded, including Bend’s -- which was the largest request.
Williams said the tower could potentially be around 75 to 100 feet tall and five to six floors, and of course have a 360-degree panoramic view of the comings and goings.
The city of Bend requested about $4.8 million, which is 65% of the estimated total project cost of $7.5 million, which covers design and construction. The city said it will seek federal funding for the balance of design and construction of the project.
The city expects the control tower will be ready for operation by late 2025.
The public is invited to an airport Open House from 5-7 p.m. on Monday, May 23 at CJ’s Airport Café to have refreshments, hear updates on the Airport Master Plan, and learn about upcoming capital improvements, including the air control tower project. The airport is located at 63132 Powell Butte Highway (second floor of the green building.)