Airport promotion and improvements could be economic boost for citySEASIDE - There is a sticker on the back window of Jason Ketcheson's Jeep. It says "Ask me how to be a pilot."

Ketcheson honestly hopes somebody does ask him that question. The flight instructor loves to talk about the feeling of freedom that flying gives him.

"When we travel on roads, we're so inhibited," he said. "They're so linear. There's a rush that comes when you're up in the air. And when you've flown into a sunset, that's beauty."

Ketcheson is the chairman of the Seaside Airport Committee, which was established this summer to help form the future of the airport. Located on Airport Road between Seaside and Gearhart, the airport has been a bit overlooked in the past. The Oregon Department of Aviation gave the site to the city of Seaside about 10 years ago.

"But the airport hasn't really played a major role and it's never really been promoted," said Seaside Public Works Director Chris Davies, a member of the committee. "The council has decided that it wants to keep the airport and I think it could become an important piece of the city."

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Pilots Randall Henderson and Jason Ketcheson are part of the newly-founded Seaside Airport Committee. Seaside will receive an $86,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for the airport and that was the main reason to create the committee, Seaside City Councilor Don Johnson said.

"The council felt that there were safety issues that needed to be looked at," he said. "But we're just lay people and we didn't know what those needs are. We wanted to get pilots in there who knew what they were doing."

The Seaside City Council approved an ordinance that required four permanent members. They include Johnson, Gearhart City Councilor Ed Tice, John Froyd of the Seaside Downtown Development Association and Seaside Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ken Meiser.

Other committee members include Ketcheson, Vice Chairman Randall Henderson, and Seaside residents and businessmen Roy Bennett and Frank Kaim.

"One of the obligations of this grant was that the city had to keep the airport open for at least 20 more years," Henderson said. "We don't have this grand vision that it will become this huge, bustling airport. It does have a limited capacity."

But the committee members are ambitious and hope to eventually turn the airport into a facility that will attract more tourists, air commuters and aviation-related businesses.

Small improvementsJohnson is the first to admit that the airport is a forgotten piece of Seaside property.

"It's kind of been one of those possessions of the city that we knew we had, but we didn't know what to do with it," he said. "We didn't have a plan."

That's the first goal of the committee. A working, viable agenda must be completed before any kind of major improvements can be discussed in detail, Ketcheson said.

The first small improvements will be to the runway, as per the requirements of the FAA grant. Money will be spent to repair cracks, dips and divots in the runway and to replace wind indicators. Also, a pilot-controlled lighting system is a consideration. Currently, the runway lights stay on all night, which many feel is a waste of money. The new system would have a way for pilots to turn on the lights as they approached the runway to land. This would improve visibility and save money.

"At a mundane level, the runway surfaces are not in great shape," Henderson said. "It gives a person more confidence to land when it looks like the airport is being kept up."

Widening the runway by approximately 10 feet is another future improvement project. This will simply make it safer.

Another important item is security fencing around the airport. It can be a dark and scary place to leave an "expensive bird" out overnight. And busy weekends, like Spring Break in March, can be an even higher risk for local and tourist pilots and airplane owners.

Location is keyOne of the airport's main advantages is that "you fly in and you're downtown," Ketcheson said. He sees the airport's location as one of the keys to its success.

Pilots who land at the airport are then able to drive or even walk into Gearhart and Seaside. Many transient pilots leave a car at the airport for local use when they visit.

"In Astoria, they fly in and then they wonder, 'how do I get there?'," Ketcheson said.

Ketcheson said another advantage the airport has is that it allows people to live in a coastal community and commute to jobs in other locations. At other airports, corporations will sometimes purchase a small passenger plane that may be used to shuttle employees.

Committee members believe that the airport will attract high-end tourists. These are the kind who generally have money to spend and will stay several days. On the other hand, many pilots will fly to the city just for the day, or even just for lunch. And Kaim, a committee member and co-owner of Seaside Scents, said that when people who fly into town make a purchase, it's typically a larger sale. One way to attract more tourists and airport users would be to market the airport at aviation businesses and trade fairs, he said.

Another one of the committee's goals is to make the airport more user-friendly for air commuters and tourists after they land. One idea would be to construct a reader board or shelter that would include information from taxi services, motels, restaurants and other local businesses. A map showing the route into Gearhart and Seaside would also be helpful.

"The city is not really telling air travelers that they want them to come to town," Henderson said.

A reader board would also be a great way to raise money. Businesses could buy space on the board or other information such as room rates and menu items.

Create appreciationFunding is another issue that the committee plans to tackle. When the Oregon Department of Aviation gave the airport to the city 10 years ago, it provided about $5,000 a year for five years to help keep it running. Those funds have run out and the airport is being financed through the public works budget. The city spends about $2,500 a year for airport electricity, an outhouse and equipment that must be replaced. That amount does not include the public works department staff's time spent mowing the runway grass areas. There really is no money for the airport, Davies said. He did acknowledge that grants, fund-raising efforts and private money would be some alternatives.

"If the Seaside City Council really decided that they wanted to start improving the airport, they would have to divert money from another fund," he said. "There's never really been any impetus to do that, but I think there's more interest on the council now."

A major part of the committee's job is to educate the public on the importance and value of the airport. Ketcheson said that by taking the time to carefully listen to residents' concerns, the committee can create a better appreciation for what the airport could be. The committee wants to create plans that are compatible with both towns.

"If you're not sure about the airport, just come spend some time with us," Ketcheson said. "Check out aviation. It's an awesome experience."

The next airport committee meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Seaside City Hall, 989 Broadway Drive.

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