On June 10, Senator Ron Wyden and A^3 by Airbus executive Herve Hilaire cut a ceremonial ribbon to open a new hangar at the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport.
The result is a strong new relationship between the world’s second-largest commercial aircraft manufacturer and the airport’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Range. This means an expansion of range operations that could last for years and comes with significant new revenues to help strengthen our local economy.
In spite of this, my conversations with several well-informed citizens lead me to believe that many of them don’t yet understand the positive benefits of the transformation that has been taking place at Pendleton’s airport for more than a year. Pendleton is becoming well known among the manufacturers and testers of UAS (drones) as a place that is easy to work with, knowledgeable about flight operations, flexible in scheduling, and safety conscious.
Consider the growth in revenue over just the past couple of years. In fiscal year 2015-2016 the UAS test range only generated a few thousand dollars. We have contracts for the coming fiscal year of 2017-2018 for nearly a half-million dollars and the actual amount of revenue will probably exceed that. This does not include the benefits from having flight test teams from around the world coming to Pendleton year round, staying for weeks and often months, dining, shopping, and staying in our hotels.
Because of this new source of income, our airport is finally operating with a profit, after years of running in the red. We will soon be at a point where the test range revenues will allow us to start modernizing our airport’s infrastructure and begin paying back its debt to the city.
For example, using state grant dollars, we are in the process of transforming a recently purchased empty building into a state-of-the-art mission control and innovation center with office spaces for UAS test teams to use. All of the airport hangars are rented and Boutique Airlines is booking hundreds of enplanements every month. Boutique even brought back the rental car business.
Keep an eye on our airport and its UAS test range. It is going to be fun to watch operations and the corresponding dollars grow in the coming years.
John Turner is the mayor of Pendleton.