Expansion in the wings
From a multimillion dollar expansion on the tarmac that will improve air tanker accommodations during wildfire season, to modernizing its runway lights, the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport is looking to a host of state and federal programs to make the airport bigger and brighter.
The airport plans to apply for a Federal Aviation Administration terminal expansion grant later this month that would expand the airport’s passenger capacity, according to airport Director Jerry Brienza, and speed up plans for expansion by at least five years.
“They have $5 billion set aside for terminals,” Brienza said of the competitive grant program the FAA created as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. “We weren’t looking to do a terminal expansion until 2028, but we are moving that up to try to put us in contention for some BIL funding.”
The funding would be atop earlier BIL funding already allocated to the Medford airport.
According to Brienza, the airport is getting an extra $3.75 million per year for the next five years. It will essentially double what the airport normally receives in federal entitlements, and Brienza said they have plans over the next year or two to utilize the extra federal money for “a slew of projects.”
Those projects include portions of a planned $12.5 million expansion of the airport’s east apron, expanding the airport’s general aviation ramp, expanding utilities to the airport’s hangar areas, an upgrade of all runway lighting to LED technology, and a new seal coat on the runway later this year.
The airport is separately applying for a pair of state grants through the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Connect Oregon program.
The larger of the two is a $2.5 million grant toward the $12.5 million expansion of the airport’s east apron, which also serves as the airport’s international ramp, according to Brienza.
“That’s to help the U.S. Forest Service, the military and cargo operations,” Brienza said.
The east apron can currently fit only one very large aircraft — such as an air tanker during wildfire season — at a time.
“We really need room for about four,” Brienza said.
The airport also applied for a Connect Oregon grant to fund an extension of its taxiway to a six-acre site where they hope to build an education and training facility, according to Brienza.
The airport applied to the state in October, and Brienza said the grant is “working its way through the process.”
The vision for the training facility is a center that would be open to higher education institutions, and to local high schools interested in providing aviation programs to students for college credits.
“It’ll also be a training facility for emergency responders in the area,” Brienza said.
Last month’s airport traffic reached nearly prepandemic numbers, according to Brienza.
February 2020 was a “record-breaking” month with a little over 69,000 travelers passing through the airport, according to Brienza. February 2022 saw about 61,000 passengers.
“We’re about 3.5% shy of our record-breaking number, so not a bad month at all,” said Brienza, adding that the airport saw a large uptick in tourism flights last month.
“A lot of people we saw headed back to Florida for a little beach time,” Brienza said
Business travel is on the rise as well, but not at the same rate as tourism travel.
“It’s still not back to where we’d like to see it, but business travel is picking up,” Brienza said.
Although February finished strong, when combined with January’s numbers year-to-date, travel numbers are down 11.75% from last year.
“January we lost a lot of ground because of omicron and pilot shortages that the industry faced ... a lot of pilots out sick,” Brienza said.
Predictions for March are up in the air.
“Unfortunately after omicron we have the war,” Brienza said. “We’ve seen fuel prices skyrocket, so it’s really unpredictable what the airlines are going to do.”
Brienza said he hasn’t seen the airlines remove any destination routes, but the frequency of flights is down compared to last spring.
“We do for sure see them cutting capacity,” Brienza said.
Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.