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Airport planning to upgrade helicopter base


The current base is not sufficient for the amount of helicopter traffic at the facility

by: JASON CHANEY - The current base is not sufficient for the amount of helicopter traffic at the facility

During the past few years, the Prineville/Crook County Airport has made several facility upgrades including runway extensions and the construction of additional hangars.

Next on the list: revamping the helicopter base.

Airport manager Kelly Coffelt explained that the current setup is inadequate for the amount of helicopter traffic they experience, particularly during the summer fire season. That time of year, as many as four helicopters share the same asphalt lot behind the airport office with other aircraft.

“The helicopters are spread out all across the airport,” Coffelt said. “It makes it logistically difficult for them. It makes it tough for us at the airport because helicopters don’t mix well with fixed-wing aircraft.”

Consequently, the airport manager would like to build a new helicopter base on the airport property, removed from fixed-wing air traffic and spacious enough to support the amount the summer fire season needs.

“We believe we have a nice spot for them,” Coffelt said, “approximately a 10-acre spot where we would be able to put a new building, areas for the helicopters, so those operations would all be in one spot versus spread out across the airport.”

Having identified the location, the primary hurdles that remain revolve around funding the estimated multi-million-dollar project and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval.

“Right now, we are looking at funding options between (Crook) County, the State (of Oregon), the Forest Service, and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management),” Coffelt said.

He noted that much of the expense is tied to providing water, sewer, and electrical infrastructure for the building that would accompany the space.

“The thought is that we might stage it,” he said, “meaning that we establish the property and maybe get the helicopters and the helipads in. Then the next stage would be the building or buildings. Or, we could do the whole project at once, depending on what type of funding we can get.”

Garnering FAA approval may not prove as daunting. Coffelt noted that work has begun on an airport master plan, a document that identifies several long-term projects for the facility.

“We’ll be able to include that in our airport layout plan when we submit it to the FAA, so that will suffice in our FAA approval.”

Although Coffelt is pursuing the helicopter base project to address a current concern, the new facility could encourage more business at the airport as well. He noted that the larger space might encourage more helicopter traffic throughout the fire season, as well as the rest of the year, which in turn would boost revenue.

“It would provide the opportunity to possibly use it for more trainings,” Coffelt suggested. “Rather than having more helicopters just during fire season, we might have some earlier for rappel training and stuff like that.”