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BANDON — While some residents and visitors may be surprised to learn that Bandon has an airport, those who are intimately involved in its daily operations are as busy as ever.

The airport, located about two miles south of Bandon just off Kehl Road, was first a flight strip constructed around 1956 by private individuals, including pilot Howard Kehl, who owned about 40 to 60 acres of the surrounding land. The land for the runway, about 7 acres, was donated to the Oregon State Board of Aeronautics in 1957 by the Bandon Flying Club (later called the Bandon Aero Club) and dedicated in August, 1958. The Aero Club now owns 9 acres, including the hangars on site.

The Bandon State Airport provides support to its community and the recreation areas that surround the area, including Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. The location of the airport also allows for continuation of the Oregon coastal airport system, with airports located approximately 30 miles north and south of Bandon State Airport.

The airport is also frequently used by business class turboprop and jet aircraft, especially when weather conditions are a problem at Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend. Many aircraft, including express package carriers, operate at Bandon State Airport when these conditions occur. Because of its importance to the community, Bandon State Airport is categorized as a Level 3 NPIAS airport.

But an airport is as much about the people who utilize and run it as it is about the planes. 

A new automatic gate has been installed at the Bandon State Airport, part of upgrades funded by the federal government.

To that end, the Crook family has been instrumental in keeping the Bandon Airport running smoothly for almost 40 years. The late Frank Crook established Bandon Aviation in 1971, where he repaired planes and offered flight instruction. That business is now carried on by his sons Brady and Wayne, as well as Guy Guernsey. All of the Crook sons are pilots. The eldest, Tom, is a commercial pilot who flies a 767 corporate plane and other luxury jets around the world. 

About the same time that the airport was formally dedicated, the Bandon Aero Club built its clubhouse on airport land, along with an office on the south end of the hangar building, which was Frank's office for many years and still the office of Bandon Aviation. Since then, a number of new hangars have been built, most of them privately owned. The runway was extended and paved in 1988.

Guernsey and the Crook brothers are one-third owners of Bandon Aviation. While Wayne and Brady tried other careers, they both ended up coming back to the family business. Guernsey also came back to Bandon after leaving.

Wayne attended school in Myrtle Point and moved to Bandon in 1974. 

"I'd come over on weekends ad work with Dad, sorting nuts and bolts, cleaning airplane parts and mowing the lawn," Wayne said. "Then we'd work on the airplanes and he'd take us up and let us fly. That's how I learned."

Brady worked as a fisherman and in the woods, but then also came back to Bandon.

Guernsey also learned to fly from Frank.

"Back in the 1990s, Frank taught me how to fly, so that's how I knew him," Guernsey said. "Then I went to Boise for nine years and I was ready to come home after Frank died in 2007."

The Crooks and Guernsey do a lot of courtesy monitoring of the airport, keeping track of radio calls and giving wind and traffic advisories as planes land. 

"We're basically volunteers for the State Aeronautics Division," Guernsey said. 

The airport receives federal funding based on its master plan, which is updated every 10 years. It receives no tax base and only rentals and landing fees, as well as fuel, support the day-to-day operations. The most recent upgrades were 10 years ago, until last month. State, city and county officials met with Aero Club members and Bandon Aviation, as well as pilots who rent hangars at the airport to discuss what they thought the most important improvements should be. 

On Sept. 12, Senators Jeff Merkely and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, announced grants in the amount of $5.8 million in funding to support Oregon airports. The grants funded much-needed repairs, safety upgrades and more to airports across the state.

The Oregon Dept of Aviation, which owns the airport, received a $786,954 grant to install airfield guidance signs, airport beacons, and miscellaneous NAVAID equipment at the Bandon State Airport.

“The Bandon grant will replace the all the runway electrical: edge lights, approach path lighting, wind cone lighting and provide an electric gate and fencing for added security,” said Matthew Maass, state airports manager for the Oregon Department of Aviation. “The current electrical system is over 20 years old and is direct burial, meaning that the wiring was buried in the dirt without conduit. The current system has outlived its useful life and has been subject to the harsh, corrosive ocean environment. This replacement will provide better protection (conduit as an example) and longevity, not to mention lower maintenance costs. The end result will be a safer, more efficient airport, with continued support for the communities of the Southern Oregon Coast.”

That work is now almost complete, according to Guernsey.

"We got a lot of lighting improvements and infrastructure that's valuable to the safety and operations of the airport," Guernsey said. "But the coolest thing is the electric gate next to the Aero Club. All the locals are very excited about that." 

The largest demographic of planes that land and take off from the Bandon Airport are the private charter aircrafts coming in to service Bandon Dunes Golf Resort customers. Most of those planes are light jets with turbo props. The biggest aircraft that lands at the airport is the Embraer Phenom 300, a Brazilian plane that holds 10 passengers, and a Pilatus PC 12, a Swiss-made aircraft that holds approximately eight passengers.

There are about 38-40 privately owned airplanes based at the Bandon Airport, with 90 percent of those from Coos County and "a few snowbirds," Guernsey said.

"We had about a 200 percent increase in airport utilization from the golf courses," Guernsey said. "The golf course is now half of our operations."

Bandon's asphalt runway is 3,600 feet in length and 60 feet wide, far improved from the gravel runway that was dedicated in 1958. The runway edge lights and end lights have all just been replaced with modern LED lights. In conjunction with that, the state put in new approach lighting and lighted signage that designates the runway, taxi area and parking. A new, larger 36-inch diameter wind sock will be put up soon so pilots can see the airport at night. The wind sock is internally lighted.

According to the state, the Bandon Airport averages 136 operations per week, including take-offs and landings. Some 49 percent of those are locals with the remaining 51 percent transient, including private, military, Coast Guard, medical transports, air ambulance, and agricultural planes, many of which use the airport several times a week.

A large percentage of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort customers utilize Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend, but Guernsey likes to describe the Bandon Airport as a "big, little airport."

"We are a little too small to get jet traffic, but big enough to receive federal funding, which is really nice." 

Locals also utilize Bandon Aviation to purchase leaded gasoline that works best in ATVs and gas-powered tools and off-road vehicles. And the Bandon Aero Club is an active social club for locals who frequent the airport. 

“These grants provide much-needed support to rural airports across the state,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “That is why I fought to adequately fund transportation, and I will continue to push for the infrastructure funding our communities deserve to connect to economic opportunity, health care services, and more.”

“Quality of life for rural Oregonians includes infrastructure investments in airports so they are safe and dependable,” Wyden said. “Transportation resources like these grants play a big part in achieving that security and reliability for Oregonians living and working in and around Hillsboro, Madras, Baker City, Bandon and Roseburg.”

The USDOT Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program provides grants to public agencies for the planning and development of airports. The grants provide important funding for safety improvements and replacing outdated equipment, as well as for elements of ongoing projects.

Grant recipients across Oregon include:

· City of Madras, $2,509,496, for taxiway reconstruction at the Madras Municipal Airport.

· Baker City, $1,196,217, to reconstruct the tarmac at Baker City Municipal Airport.

· Port of Portland, $1,149,820, to conduct an environmental assessment as part of its Hillsboro Airport runway safety area project.

· Oregon Dept of Aviation, $786,954, to install airfield guidance signs, airport beacons, and miscellaneous NAVAID equipment at the Bandon State Airport in Coos County.

· City of Roseburg, $200,000, to remove obstructions at the Roseburg Regional Airport.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Bandon Airport can call Bandon Aviation at 541-347-2022.

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Bandon Western World Editor Amy Moss Strong can be reached at 541-347-2423, ext. 305, or by email at Follow Bandon Western World on Facebook.