NEWPORT — Newport Municipal Airport staff voiced support last week for a new state bill, HB 2402, which would extend an aviation and jet fuel tax of $0.02 per gallon past the tax’s Jan. 1, 2022 sunset date, helping give lift to rural air service.
The state legislature passed HB 2075 in 2015, which levied the tax to support rural airports and spur economic development, according to a statement of support by the Oregon Airports Management Association. The tax was estimated to generate $7.7 million in revenue.
“It’s important we get this sunset lifted, because if we don’t, that takes away a lot of granting opportunities for airports,” Newport Municipal Airport Director Lance Vanderbeck said. “If that doesn’t get lifted, those granting opportunities are gone.”
Under HB 2075, the tax fuel money helped pay for the Critical Oregon Relief Program (COAR), the State-Owned Airports Reserve Program (SOAR) and the Rural Oregon Aviation Relief Program (ROAR).
COAR requires matching funds for Federal Aviation Administration grants, and goes toward emergency preparedness and infrastructure development. It also goes toward seismic studies and emergency generators, among other essential equipment and supplies. SOAR pays for safety improvements recommended by the Oregon State Aviation Board and local community airports, and ROAR provides money for commercial air service to small rural airports throughout the state.
Despite the money available through those programs, rural airports need additional investment if more than $24 billion in economic activity continues throughout the state.
Here in Newport, two COAR grants helped to secure local matching funds to pay for larger projects like the upcoming pipelining project, estimated to cost more than $2 million.
“The city’s match on that is going to be about 10 percent, which will be roughly $300,000, we’ll say,” Vanderbeck said. “With the COAR grant from the state of Oregon, they help with funding to lessen the burden on the citizens. So instead of the city coming up with the full amount, the COAR grant will help mitigate that.”
The ROAR grant, which requires 25 percent matching funds, will help airport staff bring in commercial air service to this stretch of the coast. The months-long effort by airport officials here to secure rural air service to the Newport Municipal Airport is helped along by cooperation with the airline Boutique Air, based in San Francisco, Calif.
“The ROAR grant will help bring Boutique Air in, and if that goes away, my funding program will have to change,” Vanderbeck said. “There is no other funding source for rural air service other than a DOT grant.”
The airline has a fleet of Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air 350 planes, all flown by experienced pilots, according to city documents. Each aircraft includes eight or nine seats, and Boutique Air customers can book flights to or from Newport when they book a United Airlines flight.
“Without that option of the ROAR grant to help funding for smaller airports like us, it’s going to be really hard to sustain any type of air service,” Vanderbeck said.
Boutique Air, according to an airport operations report dated April 1, submitted its safety plan, as well as an operations and business plan in anticipation of the city filing a grant application with the Oregon Department of Aviation this month. As of April 12, those plans submitted by the airline were not readily available.